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Commissioner tells why county is hand-counting all its ballots

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Written by VIRGINIA MARTIN   Columbia County Election Commissioner
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 21:36
Why county is hand-counting all its ballots

.This is hands-on democracy. That it's a vanishing species is a crying shame. But, this fall, Commissioner Jason Nastke and I have brought it to Columbia County, because our alternative was to submit our democracy to invisible and sometimes-fickle electromagnetism -- in other words, the processes by which computerized voting machines scan a paper ballot, interpret the votes cast on it, record those votes and tally all the votes they've handled.....Yes, computers can add accurately. Yes, they can scan accurately. But tasks that may sound simple given our techno-immersed culture really aren't simple at all. The half-dozen programs that run our optical-scan voting machines are remarkably complex and well beyond the ken of you or me, of my neighbor or yours. In fact, they're so complex that computer scientists say that testing them to confirm that they contain no errors, inadvertent or malicious, is "beyond the state of the art."....

NY: NEW YORK JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF MACHINE COUNTS
http://electionupdates.caltech.edu/?p=3669 The Democrats were seeking a full recount of all optical scan machines because apparently the 3% post election recount showed that some ballots were not counted -"there were more ballots in the box than counted by the machine.
... The Democrats were seeking a full recount of all optical scan machines because apparently the 3% post election recount showed that some ballots were not counted -"there were more ballots in the box than counted by the machine.  However, according to news reports Republicans argued that the court should use the electronic results regardless  unless the machine broke down.  Professor Stark's prepared  remarks, who in the end was not allowed to testify but some of his remarks were read into the record,  can be found here and several other stories can be found here and here on the matter.


NY: 7th SD: Johnson files appeal
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An attorney for state Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) said Monday that he has filed a notice of appeal from a judge's ruling certifying Republican Jack Martins as the winner their contest for the 7th District. "We are optimistic that justice will be served on appeal," attorney Steven Schlesinger said. Justice Ira Warshawsky of state Supreme Court in Mineola certified Martins as the winner in a court session Saturday, ruling that there was insufficient evidence to show that Johnson could win in a hand count of all 85,000 ballots. The final count of the Board of Elections was 42,942 votes for Martins, and 42,491 for Johnson, a margin of 451 votes.

NY: Testimony Proffered to New York Supreme Court Judge Ira Warshawsky Regarding the November 2010 Senate Contest in NY Senate District 7
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The potential for error in this contest is large: In total, the 242 unaudited machines could hold enough error to account for the apparent margin 186 times over. Sixty-six of the 242 unaudited machines could individually hold enough error to account for the apparent margin.

Philip B. Stark, 4 December 2010...The 3% audit gives very little statistical confidence that a full hand count of the ballots would show Mr. Martins to be the winner. ...Two of seven audited machines had errors: over 28%. The errors all favored Mr. Martins: correcting them decreases the apparent margin......There is a substantial chance that a 3% or 8% audit would find little or no error even if Mr. Johnson is the true winner....Because the margin is so small compared to the possible errors, a very large percentage of machines needs to be audited to give strong evidence that Mr. Martins is indeed the winner. 3% is not sufficient. 8% is not sufficient. To have 90% statistical confidence that Mr. Martins won requires auditing a minimum of 90% of the machines selected randomly: an additional 218 machines.

NY: Republicans Lay Claim to New York State Senate
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"The judge's decision to deny a recount is wrong on the letter and spirit of the law," Mr. Shafran said. "In a race where the margin is less than half of 1 percent, the failure to count every vote is a disservice to every voter."

NY: Bloomberg and Sharpton Seek Changes to NY Election Rules
click here ... offering "no-excuse" absentee ballots, the creation of an early voting period, extending the deadline to register for or switch enrollment in a political party, and allowing ballots to be filled out outside of the polling station where they are deposited.
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Written by VIRGINIA MARTIN  
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 21:36
Why county is hand-counting all its ballots

COMPUTERS HAVE TOUCHED almost every aspect of our lives, or at least it seems so. Twenty-first-century society is complexly intertwined with all things digital. Software and the programming that create it instantaneously work daily miracles in our lives -- so, of course someone would connect software and elections. That, however, is not necessarily a good thing.

The zeroes-and-ones electromagnetic technologies that enable the most utilitarian and wonderful aspects of our connected culture have their limitations. They can't, for example, replace sunlight or air or soil, or the foods that grow as a result. They can't replace a mother's loving touch or a suitor's adoring gaze.

Nor can they build the kind of gut confidence in an electoral process that is possible when human beings from my town, whom I know and trust, handle, under the watchful gaze of others from my town, every voted ballot. It's a confidence gained when these individuals study every vote cast, call out each vote, see it recorded by another, and then together tabulate all the votes.

This is hands-on democracy. That it's a vanishing species is a crying shame. But, this fall, Commissioner Jason Nastke and I have brought it to Columbia County, because our alternative was to submit our democracy to invisible and sometimes-fickle electromagnetism -- in other words, the processes by which computerized voting machines scan a paper ballot, interpret the votes cast on it, record those votes and tally all the votes they've handled.
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Yes, computers can add accurately. Yes, they can scan accurately. But tasks that may sound simple given our techno-immersed culture really aren't simple at all. The half-dozen programs that run our optical-scan voting machines are remarkably complex and well beyond the ken of you or me, of my neighbor or yours. In fact, they're so complex that computer scientists say that testing them to confirm that they contain no errors, inadvertent or malicious, is "beyond the state of the art."

That doesn't build my confidence. Nor do I gain confidence that the machines are accurate simply on New York State's say-so. Since I, as election commissioner, have to certify to the accuracy of any election run under my watch, that steers me in the direction of a more elemental process -- a hand count under the watchful gaze of individuals who are invested in its accuracy.

Our state handed us a $50-millon lemon when it required that we use computers to count votes, because computers operate via electromagnetic processes that are a mystery to anyone who hasn't studied every single one of the resident programs in every single one of the machines -- not to mention the electronic hardware. We were far better off when we could use simpler, less-expensive lever voting machines that operate via simple physical processes that anyone can understand and check.

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Chair, Citizens for Voting Integrity, Westchester County, New York

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