Research conducted for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission confirms what Pfaffenberger found. An election day survey of the 2004 Presidential election conducted by Election Data Services showed that NY had a statewide undervote rate in the presidential race of just 0.77% -- among the lowest in the nation. (Ch.8, p.15) Levers do not permit overvotes nor, unlike software-driven systems, switched votes (where a voter chooses one candidate, but the touch screen or optical scanner displays and/or records a different choice).
Imagine how different the outcomes might have been in the 2000 and 2004 elections had levers been used instead of unreliable, exploitable, software-driven systems that counted easily altered, lost or destroyed punchcards. Professor Pfaffenberger details a history we are well advised to remember, especially in light of the punchcard shenanigans in Florida and Ohio:
"It is quite astonishing to realize that, while the lever machine was under development, inventors came up with just about every voting machine concept that has since been realized, including precinct-scan punchcard technologies, ballot printing machines, and even electromechanical systems that can be seen as predecessors of computerized technologies.
"All of these technologies produced paper records, however, and all were flatly rejected, both by voters and election officials, as letting the possibility of fraud in through the back door.
"Today, there are widespread calls to bring paper back into the picture, but the reason is that people do not trust the machines. Having studied the history, I strongly believe that there would be no such call for paper if the ugly history of fraudulent practices enabled by paper ballots were known -- unfortunately, the American people have forgotten the lessons they learned a century ago, and I greatly fear that we will have to repeat them in order to learn them again."
Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. Pfaffenberger's point is well taken: our call for hand-counted paper ballots is directly related to our distrust of computerized voting systems and our ignorance of how prone a paper audit trail is to fraud. His warning relates specifically to paper-based systems:
"Although lever machines do not produce an independent audit trail, this is -- as software engineers say -- a feature, not a bug. In the 1880s and 1890s, paper ballots emerged as the locus par excellence of election fraud; lever machines were expressly designed to take the human element out of every aspect of the vote recording and counting process in order to eliminate fraud that was gravely undermining Americans' confidence in their democracy." (emphasis added)- Advertisement -
Lever machines were designed to remove paper; this feature was deliberate given how easy paper is to alter, lose or destroy. There was to be no recount, because, as Andi Novick explains below in NY's Election Law History, it was:
We certainly learned that in Ohio during the 2004 recount. Two employees from Cuyahoga, Jacqueline Maiden and Kathleen Dreamer, were convicted of tampering with the recount, resulting in felony convictions that were later expunged from their records. New York has wisely recognized the vulnerabilities of post-election recounts, and forbidden them by law.
"historically understood that once the ongoing public scrutiny of the poll site ended and the results of the election night count were known, the count was at greater risk of subsequent tampering."
Documented Lever Failures in NY
No voting system is perfect. Of 18,234 lever machines used in New York in 2006, a total of 1,036 problems requiring service were reported to the NY SBOE. The time to fix such problems ranged from less than a minute to up to 2 hours (in one county), but most counties fixed the lever problem within 15 minutes.
Of 18,234 machines, only 23 stopped working, and could not be repaired during Election Day – a failure rate of about 1/8 of 1% (0.126%), which stands in stark contrast to the 66% failure rate of certified electronic BMDs that Nassau County tested this month.
While the failure rate was a remarkable 0.126%, the breakdown rate of these 40-year-old lever machines in 2006 was 5.68%. The 2004 breakdown and failure rates during the presidential election were slightly higher than 2006: 6.38% and 0.15% (1/6 of 1%), respectively. Can anyone imagine a computer or a printer lasting this long?
"This rate of breakdown also begs the question of how many undetected errors occurred with no possible recount or audit."