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The DOJ and New York State – Part 1

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Paper Ballots could solve the problem

The Department of Justice has filed a motion asking the US District Court to appoint a Special Master to oversee replacing New York States lever machines by the November 2008 election. The DOJ maintains the state must forgo the rigorous certification process and source code escrow requirements called for by state law and use whatever voting machines are currently available, potentially even failed electronic touch screen machines, or DREs. I’ve got a lot of problems with the DOJ’s position, particularly because it ignores the fact that so many of the so called ‘HAVA compliant’ voting machines rushed into operation are proving to be expensive, failure prone and not accessible to voters with disabilities, yet they seem willing to force New York voters use them anyway. I’ll write more about that in coming articles, but today I’ll talk about a way that New York State could get an accessible and auditable voting system up and running in relatively short order.

A great many of the disputed issues at the State Board of Elections vanish completely if DREs are eliminated from the mix. But yet, both Democrats and Republicans on the Board keep insisting that they have no choice but to allow the DRE disasters that are wreaking havoc in other states to be used in New York! This is especially egregious because by eliminating DREs and focusing on paper ballots and ballot scanners New York State could have been well along the way to full HAVA compliance, and if necessary, we could  do it still.

The State Board of Elections needs to get past their devotion to allowing DREs. This is an easy choice to justify given that DRE technology is being rapidly abandoned by other states – why does the State Board  even want to go there given what we know now about the problems with touch screen voting? If the State Board made a commitment to paper ballots,  ballot scanners and accessible marking devices, New York State could present a plan to the Court that would satisfy state regulations and make disability organizations, voting integrity advocates and the DOJ happy.

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Here’s a plan that New York State could get done by next year. But in order to do so it requires focusing on paper ballots, scanners and ballot markers, and the State Board certifying one single system for use.

1) Eliminate DREs and focus solely on ballot marking devices and precinct ballot scanners. Not only does this simplify certification testing, it eliminates most source code escrow issues as all scanner software can be escrowed.

2) Test the available scanners under New York’s current regulatory standards. The limited number of machines to be tested, and the relative simplicity of the devices make this doable in a far shorter time than if the Board insists on testing DREs as well as scanners.

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3) Certify one and only one ballot scanner and one ballot marker which best meet test requirements and the needs of all voters (needless to say, the ballot scanner and marker must be mutually compatible). Note I say only ONE system should be certified. A single statewide system will facilitate rapid training and deployment of the new system as well as significantly decrease related operational costs across the state. There is nothing preventing the State Board from certifying only a single machine, and this is the only way to get everything completed in the available time.

4) Deploy at least one ballot marking device and one ballot scanner to each polling place by June 2008. Training on the new devices, performed by the State Board of Elections, begins immediately upon arrival of equipment in each county.

5) In the September 2008 primary and the November 2008 general election, all ballot markers and scanners must be available in each polling place for use by anyone who wants to use them. Use of the scanners is optional in the September primary, and lever machines can continue to be deployed. By the November election, the lever machines are retired and all voting is done on paper marked by hand or ballot marking devices.

Many in the state believe it’s impossible to get a new voting system implemented in a year’s time. It is only if you insist that DREs are an option, and that counties must have six or seven different systems to choose from, adding great complexity and time to the process. The State Board needs to wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late.  The answer to New York State’s HAVA problems can only be found in paper ballots.


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Bo Lipari is the executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting.

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