"Now is the Time for All Good Voters…"
by Lenore Rapalski

The Problem - Part I: New York State must replace its lever voting machines

because they don't meet accessibility requirements for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Voting machines must offer the voter the "second chance" to confirm his/her choice with a paper ballot which can, if necessary, be counted. New York State received a waiver until January 2006 to select new voting machines. No decision means the loss of federal funds.

The Problem - Part II: The New York State Assembly and Senate introduced legislation in the 2004 session setting new voting machine standards in the NYS Election Law, but did not agree on what those standards should be. A HAVA conference committee met in Spring 2005 and eventually agreed on requirements and standards in June. Governor Pataki signed the legislation into law on July 12. The law permits local county boards of election to choose voting machines which are either PBOS (Paper Ballot/Optical Scanning) or DREs (Direct Recording Electronic Systems).

The Solution - Part I: The US League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization, interpreted the "Citizen's Right to Vote" to be predicated on voting machines that are secure, accurate, recountable and accessible. This means that the League doesn't support or oppose any particular type of technology per se. However, State Leagues may advocate for a particular voting system based on the four criteria.

The Solution - Part II: Another citizen's group, New Yorkers for Verified Voting (organized by Bo Lipari), established a website to disseminate information about voting machines, evaluating them using the League's criteria. I urge you to make a daily trip to www.nyvv.org to stay current.

The Criteria and the Equipment: Our county election commissioners, Ed Szczesniak (D) and Helen Kiggins (R) say there won't be machines to look at until December. However, we need to evaluate the research for PBOS and DREs before we see the machines.

Recountability is a key issue. There are two types of DREs. One is paperless and stores ballots only in computer memory and media, which is not good if a recount is necessary. The other is the Voter Verifiable Paper Ballot (VVPB), which stores and treats ballots like traditional ballots, but its ATM-style printing makes ballots difficult to read, verify and recount. There would be no hanging chads, but it still would be frustrating.

DREs have demonstrated failures and problems in real elections. These problems are dealt with by the technicians who work for the equipment manufacturers. Do we want private corporations to run our elections? As voters, we not only want, but need accuracy. Otherwise, why vote?

There is only one type of PBOS. Voters mark a paper ballot with a pen. Voters with disabilities use a Ballot Marking Device (accessibility). Voters then insert the completed ballots into the optical scanner for validation. Optical Scanners keep votes secure within the voting precinct.

The voting machine corporations manufacture both DREs and PBOS machines, but the bottom line is profit. The PBOS machines are cheaper, meet all four criteria and if every NYS county used them, NYS taxpayers would ultimately save $116 million. And let us not forget that when the machine breaks, local tax-payers pay because there are no federal monies available to repair equipment. Optical scanners have a track record of low repair and years of use. Miami/Dade County in Florida is deciding to replace their DREs with Optical Scanners for $24.5 million.

The Best Solution: You! Get involved in the process.

Write or phone members of the six-person committee evaluating voting machines. The committee consists of three legislators: Robert Warner (R), William Meyer (R), and Lovie Winslow (D) - who can be reached at 407 Court House, Syracuse 13202, and three county employees: Joe Mareane (chief fiscal officer), Fran Simmonds (information technology director) and James Albanese (administrator for physical facilities) - all at the Onondaga County Civic Center, 421 Montgomery St., Syracuse, 13202.
Write County elections commissioners Helen Kiggins (R) and Edward Szczesniak (D), who County Executive Nick Pirro says will make the final choice. Pirro also said, "It's important for the county's elected officials to weigh in as taxpayers will be responsible for picking up the cost of ongoing operations and maintenance."
Contact information is available through the League's publication, Who's Who: A Guide to Your Elected Officials. Call the League office at 422-9707 and request a copy.
The best sources of information on which to base your correspondence are www.nyvv.org (New Yorkers for Verified Voting), www.lwvny.org (League of Women Voters New York State) and www.lwv.org (League of Women Voters US).

Lenore is the Optical Scan Liaison for the Syracuse League of Women Voters.