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There's No Place Like Home: Plan L for NY Elections

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There's No Place Like Home: The State Board of Elections Struggles to do the Impossible when the Possible and Best Solution for Transparent, Safe, Reliable Elections is Right Here:

Plan "L"- Our Lever Voting System 

Open letter to New York's State Board of Elections Commissioners: 

I watched the October 3, 2008 meeting of New York's State Board of Elections (SBoE).  Commissioner Peterson hit the proverbial nail on the head. "If you have something that works and something that doesn't work, I vote for the thing that works." Our lever voting system works to provide New Yorkers with trustworthy election results.  Software-driven optical scanners and DREs can never satisfy the requirements of a democracy because the vote counting is concealed from the public, the very people who have to see and know that their votes are being counted as cast. 

The Thing That Doesn't Work- Software-driven Voting Machines 

The thing that doesn't work are the computerized voting machines which the federal government doled out 4 billion of our tax dollars to be funneled back to a few vendors and the states all jumped and now they're stuck. The evidence of failed machines is overwhelming.  Commissioner Aquila is to be commended for pointing out the thousands of reports of failed and broken voting machines.  At the June 19, 2008 meeting Commissioner Kellner summarized the problem accurately: "[T]he voting industry sells crap.  And that's the problem." * 

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However shoddily made machines is not the only problem that is clearly frustrating all the State Board of Election Commissioners.  Even if they didn't break down regularly, these software-driven machines cannot be made secure enough for a democratic elections, as demonstrated by dozens of reports from computer scientists around the nation (click here). The standards the federal government has permitted the states to use in running elections on these vulnerable-to-massive-tampering machines is inadequate to secure election results and inferior to the standards New York has set for New Yorkers over the past two centuries.  In New York we have had nothing more than the standards of democracy: our courts and successive legislatures have insisted on security, reliability and transparency.  We have historically required that all known opportunities for fraud be prevented.  In our lever voting system we have an electoral system that is observable and designed to detect, expose and prevent tampering. And it works! 

But the computerized machines New York is earnestly testing will never be capable of being certified as suitable to "ensure the integrity and security of the voting machine or system" (Election Law 7-202 (1)(r)) because that is impossible.  This is the assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the experts who advise the US Election Assistance Commission on the writing of federal voting system standards to which NY voluntarily adheres. In a November, 2006 report, NIST found that, " ...testing to high degrees of security and reliability is from a practical perspective not possible." ** 

Below, I have included relevant excerpts from just a few of the dozens of independent computer scientists, each corroborating the other's findings that these voting machines are incapable of providing security and reliability because software is vulnerable to undetectable and therefore unpreventable tampering.  Distilling the evidence this way perhaps explains why twice during the meeting Commissioner Peterson used the expression 'boggles the mind' referring to the expectation of the federal government that we should find a way to certify these machines as safe to use. 

The Thing That Does Work - Our Lever Voting Machines 

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Returning to Commissioner Peterson's nail hitting quote above, what does work is our lever voting system. Not only has it proved itself in a century of service but  with proper maintenance it will continue to do so for another century. Bryan Pfaffenberger, a professor at the University of Virginia who received a Scholar's Award from the National Science Foundation to study the history of lever voting machines, concluded: 

"In New York, the people, in their wisdom, created a system of election administration AND a technology that solved the characteristic problems of American elections; to abandon lever machines for new technologies that will not gain voter confidence and, at the same time, re-introduce paper audit trails or paper ballots which have long proven to be prone to election fraud, amounts in my opinion to a potentially disastrous mistake." *** 

Professor Pfaffenberger describes the lever voting machines as one of the greatest achievements of American inventive genius, explaining how New York was the proud beginning of this eminent technology.  It is fitting that we not allow New York to be the state that sounds the death knell for this superior technology. 

Our Lever Voting System is HAVA-compliant 

When the State Legislature enacted ERMA in 2005 most of the scientific reports referenced herein, revealing these machines' inability to securely count our votes, had not yet come out. HAVA required that disabled citizens be able to vote independently, the single federal requirement our levers couldn't comply with.  But since we've installed ballot marking devices (BMDs) in every poll site for 2008 we have overcome that federal impediment and thus our lever voting system, combined with the BMDs, now complies with HAVA. That is the "Plan B" Commissioner Peterson called for, anticipating that another couple of months of testing would leave us "sucking our thumbs" and result in having these "machines jammed down our throats" unless we had a Plan B.  Since Plan B already refers to something specific at the SBoE, let's call this the Plan L- for our Levers. Plan L will prevent the shoddily made, unsecurable computerized machines from being jammed down our throats.

I have spoken to many of the county election commissioners, all of whom would choose to stay on our levers but for NY's Legislature enaction of the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA).  But the Legislature left it to the State Board of Elections to replace our levers by certifying software-driven voting machines if it could.  With all due respect, they can't. Consistent with the experience of the valiant and frustrating efforts of the SBoE, these machines have been thoroughly examined by dozens of independent computer scientists and repeatedly exposed for their vulnerability to unprotectable and massive tampering. New York can continue testing, costing taxpayers excessive time and money, but testing will only reveal what has already been proven-- which is that these machines cannot legitimately be certified as safe for use. Indeed, certifying such machines as secure or reliable would contradict the findings of every one of the scientific reports that have come out in the past few years. 

We are the only state in the nation left with a secure, reliable, observable, demonstrably accurate voting system. The State Board of Elections is the agency entrusted with ensuring that the machines and systems new Yorkers are required to vote on can produce trustworthy results.  We are fortunate that we still have such a system and aren't forced to go the way of the rest of the nation suffering with 'crappy' and theft-enabling computers.  

On behalf of the residents of New York, we implore you to follow your conscience, stop and consider what you have already accurately perceived and look at the overwhelming evidence.   

Vote for the machine that works.  Vote Plan L.  Save our lever voting system.  

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Thank you 

Andrea T. Novick, Esq. 

* See  EYES WIDE SHUT: New Yorkers Struggle for the Soul of Democracy, 

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