Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lever Machines - Who Says They Are Illegal?

One of the first questions most people will ask when confronted with warnings about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Touch Screen voting machines and Optical Scan ballot counters (Op-scans) is: "But aren't these analogous to banking at the ATM, and aren't scanners used to mark standardized tests? Both are used on a regular basis without a problem." Indeed, one vendor/manufacturer of ATMs is also a purveyor of Touch Screen and Op-Scan voting systems, although both the Touch Screens and the Op-Scans are generally much more shoddily made and engineered than your average ATM. The difference is transparency. If your money suddenly and unexpectedly disappears you are immediately aware of the loss. If your vote is lost or changed, you would never know. A little thing called the secret ballot really complicates things!

Two simple and comparatively reliable alternatives to computerized vote counting are the hand counting of paper ballots (HCPB) and the continued use of lever machines. Most presentations on HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002) compliance begin with the assertion that Lever Machines are now illegal and must be replaced by electronic voting machines. However, according to 2004 testimony by New York State Board of Elections Commissioner Doug Kellner:

The federal Help America Vote Act, 42 USC §§15301 et seq., will require substantial changes in election administration for the 2006 elections. In particular, 42 USC § 15481, sets minimum standards for voting machines. Our lever machines satisfy all but one of those standards, that there be at least one machine at each poll site that is 'accessible for individuals with disabilities, including non-visual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.

Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) which will comply with HAVA's standards for disability access and will produce a paper ballot for the disabled voter have now been approved for use in New York State. As required by HAVA one such device will be available at each polling place for the November 2008 elections. Non-disabled voters will continue to use the lever machines in November 2008 or may choose to use the BMD . These BMD paper ballots will be hand-counted in 2008 but most county election commissioners are anticipating the use of Op-Scans to count paper ballots for all voters beginning in 2009.

ReMediaETC in upcoming posts will be demonstrating the risks to our democracy posed by computerized vote counting and, in challenging the security and lack of transparency of Op-Scans, will argue that the continued use of lever machines is legal under HAVA and should be used until it is determined that New York is in need of some other transparent and secure means of counting our ballots

Here is Commissioner Kellner in an interview from 2005:

Machines similar to today's lever machines were at the center of a voter-fraud scandal in the 1940s. The machines had mechanical counters similar to odometers that recorded how many votes were cast for each candidate. Some of the people responsible for counting the votes used pen knives to change the counters and thus the votes. Similarly, the counters used on today's machines could be adjusted prior to the opening of polls to provide an artificial advantage to a candidate. Unlike e-voting machines, which have all of its inner-workings hidden away as code, the working parts of lever machines are exposed to the world. The fraud of the 1940s was uncovered because volunteers from the polling stations noticed that the numbers on their machines at the counting location were not the same as when they left the polling station. Similarly, any tampering with a lever machine today would be plainly visible to the volunteer preparing it for poll opening. Becoming aware of fraud on an e-voting machine would be much more difficult, because so much of their inner-workings are invisible to all but the software programmers.

Fighting fraud carried out by code is also particularly expensive. Some e-voting systems run on 150,000 lines of code and to uncover whether fraud has occurred, or by whom and how, requires an army of programmers, a number of years, and millions of dollars. Even then, there is no guarantee that their examination will produce results.

The Hand Counted Paper Ballot Alternative will be discussed in an upcoming post.

- Joanne Lukacher

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mission Statement - Counting the Ballots in New York State

The Re-Media Election Transparency Coalition was formed in response to New York State’s committed direction of replacing its lever voting system with computerized voting systems in 2008 or 2009.

While any voting system is subject to illegal manipulation the mechanics of our existing lever machines and the procedural safeguards which have been put in place have served us well. Illegal tampering with a lever machine is rare and easily detectable and while it may call into question the results from a single machine the effect is minimal relative to the potential for undetectable wholesale fraud which is possible on a single electronic vote counting machine. Manipulation of either a Direct Record Electronic touchscreen machine (DRE) or Paper Ballot Optical Scan machine (PBOS) can alter the outcome of an entire election. That is, a single person can rig the results of the whole state!

The right to vote is the most important of the rights inherent to a self-governing society. All of our inalienable, civil and political rights rely on our ability to elect or abolish our government. Since the founding of the State of New York the right to vote and to have our votes counted has been protected by a myriad of safeguards that rely on public scrutiny and access to information to provide a check against the abuse of power and the means for the people to evaluate how the State carried out its responsibility to count our votes and protect the integrity of the franchise. All of that will end if the State proceeds with its plan to let computers count our votes.

Every other state in the nation has switched to some form of computerized voting on either DREs or OpScans and the results have been disastrous. It is still possible to prevent this catastrophe in New York State. Over the past year Re-media has engaged in a variety of activities to educate and alert citizens and public officials to both the dangers of the path we are on and alternatives to safer and simpler non-corporate controlled secret vote counting. These have included public forums, film screenings, writing articles to better inform the public, intervening by way of an amicus motion in the case of the US Department of Justice vs New York State, and email communications regarding articles and actions. The efforts have been time consuming and expensive. We are preparing to commence litigation against the state of New York to prevent the evisceration of two hundred years of an observable safeguarded electoral system.

We need both money to pursue the litigation (legal expenses including transcripts, filing fees, depositions, etc.) additional lawyers and volunteers who are willing to support our efforts through letter writing and by their physical presence in a courtroom.
Donations may be made to the Coalition at Velvet Revolution. To add your name to our list of supporters contact .