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Decision to Forgo Uniform Voting Machines
Sharply Attacked
  The Empire Journal    26 July 2005

The decision by the Legislature to forego a uniform statewide standard for voting machinery, in favor of local decision-making by county boards of elections in the legislation passed in the final days of the legislative session has been sharply criticized by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan)

?I cannot say in full confidence that the package of legislation we passed will guarantee a transparent, well-administrated and reliable voting system for New York State,?  Krueger said.  ?We are left with the unfortunate situation wherein the Legislature punted difficult decisions to the county election commissioners.  I hope that the counties will show greater wisdom than the Legislature by adopting optical scanning technology, which studies have shown to be the most reliable voting technology currently available.?

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a federal law that was passed in response to the 2000 Bush-Gore fiasco in Florida, requires all states to upgrade their election procedures by January 2006.  This includes updating voting machines, registration processes, and poll worker training to ensure fair elections at all levels.  Since New York has complied with the HAVA mandate, the state will receive close to $235 million in federal funding. 

New York was the last state in the union to complete their HAVA legislation.  The package of legislation had languished in the Legislature for two years, but the body had no choice but to act now for fear of losing out on crucial federal dollars. ?There is nothing more fundamental to a democracy than the right and ability of its citizens to vote,? said  Krueger.  ?Too many New Yorkers see voting as an obstacle and do not exercise their right as a result.? 

An initial step that county boards of election will have to take is to dispose of their aging lever-action machines that made their world debut at a demonstration in Lockport, NY in 1892.  Concurrently, the counties will have to choose between purchasing optical scanning voting machines, DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) systems, or some other voting technology.

A recent Johns Hopkins University report demonstrated how easily DRE machines could be manipulated without detection.  It was for this very reason that Sen. Krueger introduced legislation that required all voting machines to have a voter-verified paper trail.  Voters would be able to visually confirm their vote by reviewing a printout under glass.  Additionally, Krueger has advocated for voting machines that have technology to make voting accessible for the disabled as well as for New Yorkers with limited proficiency in English. ?In the final analysis, paper ballots marked on precinct-counted optical scanners are the most reliable, user friendly and cost-effective of the computer-based technologies available and they can be accompanied with various language options and ballot marking devices for people with disabilities. These machines are used in close to half of the counties across America and have the smallest occurrence of errors among all voting machines. Finally, Optical scanners cost half of what DRE machines cost and this will be welcomed by constituents and taxpayers? she said.

?Paper ballots and optical scanners are a reliable, mature, accessible and auditable technology that has been proven by its usage in 46% of counties around the United States,? remarked Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting.

Furthermore, Sen. Krueger pointed to recent stories coming out of Miami-Dade County in Florida where the County Board of Elections was so dissatisfied with their three-year old, $24.5 million DRE machines that he has formally recommended switching to optical scanners. ?Obviously, Florida knows best when it comes to electoral fraud.  So if they don?t trust DRE?s, than I certainly do not,? the senator remarked.

While many elected officials have not been particularly straight-forward about their position on the voting machine question, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has become an outspoken advocate for paperless elections.  Bloomberg was quoted recently in several New York City publications as being in support of technology without a paper trail.  ?It is unfortunate that Mayor Bloomberg is under the delusion that paperless voting technology is safe and sound,? said Krueger.  ?The voter-verified paper trail is the only assurance that voters have that their vote was counted, and counted correctly.?

She also denounced the millions being spent presently by lobbyists to influence county commissioners on which machines to choose in order to comply with HAVA guidelines. By leaving the choice up to the counties to their voting machines, Albany has opened the door for an extensive, county-by-county lobbying campaign. ?Voting machine manufacturers produce both DRE machines, as well as optical scanners.  Since DRE?s are far more expensive and require greater maintenance, the lobbyists are being paid to push the DRE?s. Lobbyists and manufacturers are clearly not prioritizing ensuring a New Yorkers right to vote, but rather prioritizing their pocketbooks,? warned Krueger.

Procurement lobbying reform legislation was passed during this legislative session, but ironically, the law does not go into effect until 2006.  This effectively means that the voting machines campaign will be the last non-transparent and unregulated lobbying effort.  ?New Yorkers deserve the right to know what is being spent to influence which voting machines they will be voting on for decades to come,? indicated the senator.  ?Unfortunately most of the lobbying process so far has taken place in stealth.?

 ?We have an excellent opportunity to repair an aspect of the democratic process in which New Yorkers and many Americans have lost confidence.  If we can bring about increasingly reliable elections, it will restore faith in the process and provide the support that will strengthen public policy initiatives,? Krueger said.  ?It is of the highest importance that county election commissioners recognize that New Yorkers deserve the best voting system available and the data clearly points to optical scanners a that system.?  7-26-05

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