Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mission: Possible -- Fight NOW to Retain New York's Lever Voting System!

Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce the ambiguous directives of the Help America Vote Act, and compelled by the state's legislative response, The Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005, New York has been harried to replace its reliable lever voting machines with uncertified -- and uncertifiable -- software-driven electronic vote counting systems. This needless yet stubborn campaign to dismantle our secure lever voting system has amounted to a veritable crusade waged by some, in the face of wary election commissioners and despite ever increasing alarm about the vulnerabilities of the electronic systems. In order to inform our members, so they may better express their concerns to their election officials and legislative representatives, Election Transparency Coalition offers the following brief history of events:

Help Save New York's Lever Voting System!

In October 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that among other things, created the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC). HAVA required the EAC to produce voluntary federal voting system standards. It took three and a half years for the first set of these standards to be published in the Federal Register in April 2006. New York proceeded to adopt these voluntary guidelines along with its own set of State standards to certify new voting systems to replace our time tested, reliable lever machines with computers, as required by the State's Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005 (ERMA) -- but NOT required by HAVA.

To date, no voting system the State of NY (or any other state) has tested has even come close to meeting these standards, although the standards themselves are considered to be far too lax by most computer scientists who have studied them. Our tried and true lever machines continue to function well, and we are about to use them in the 2008 Presidential election. Almost all of their parts are standard items carried by hardware stores, while the balance of the parts can be produced by machine shops. The outlook for replacing the levers in 2009 remains doubtful due to continued problems and delays in the certification process. This has been reported on a weekly basis to the US Dept. of Justice (the DoJ -- who are suing the State Board of Elections) and to the federal judge in their case.

And it's no wonder. In November 2006, just seven months after the current federal standards were published, computer security experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), who under HAVA, advised the EAC on the writing of the standards, published a paper on the need for voting systems to be "software independent." The authors clearly stated that "experience in testing software and systems has shown that testing to high degrees of security and reliability is from a practical perspective not possible." [emphasis added]

But the NY State Board of Elections, its vendors, its testing labs, its not-for-profit watchdog -- the New York State Technology Enterprise Corporation (NYSTEC), and even the DoJ itself, have nevertheless been attempting the impossible. We appreciate their efforts and we feel their pain, but we also believe it's time they faced reality. And they are.

As State Election Commissioner Gregory Peterson said at the Oct. 3, 2008 Board meeting in Albany:
What do we do? Go back to lever machines which probably work better than anything else we've ever had. I'm not saying I advocate that. However, if you have something that works and something that doesn't work, I vote for the thing that works.
Well, we the People of the Empire State, who are perhaps able to speak more freely, are in fact advocating for what works.

While the State will have to return about $50-million in HAVA funds to Uncle Sam, we believe it's a small price to pay for our Constitutional right to vote, to know how our votes will be counted, and to see that our votes will be given full force and effect by way of the lever voting machines. Such things will never be possible with software, which by its very nature is not observable. And this is unconstitutional in our great State.

We are therefore asking the State of New York to:
  • end this impossible "certification" mission;
  • return the $50-million Title I HAVA funds to the United States;
  • continue to deploy ballot marking devices for voters with special needs to comply with HAVA using the remaining $170-million of Title II funds available for this and other purposes; and
  • allow the voters of New York to continue to vote in free, fair, transparent and secure elections by retaining our lever voting system.
Your State and County Election Commissioners, who have sworn an oath to protect the voters of New York, have the necessary influence to end this madness. The Legislature will heed their advice, just as they did in 2007 when the commissioners asked for ERMA to be amended to remove any date certain for the replacement of lever machines. And the US Dept. of Justice would not have a case for the replacement of lever voting machines if we simply give back a small fraction of our $220-million of HAVA money. This is indeed a small price to pay to preserve our rights and to avoid the kind of electoral chaos we have been seeing in other states and recently, even in the nation's capitol.


Andi Novick, Esq.
Founder, Election Transparency Coalition of NY

Thomas L. Tedeschi, Esq.
Election Attorney
Queens, NY

Susan Greenhalgh
Communications and Strategy Consultant
Election Transparency Coalition of NY

Teresa Hommel

Howard Stanislevic
E-Voter Education Project

Joanne Lukacher
Executive Director
Election Transparency Coalition of NY