Thursday, April 16, 2009

Greene County Passes Lever Resolution

Greene County is now the fifth New York County to pass a resolution urging New York State Legislators to save our lever Voting Machines.

Election Transparency Coalition has been working with our coalition partner, New York Citizens for Clean Elections, to forward this resolution in Greene County. Here is their report:

In a surprise move on Wednesday, April 15, Greene County Legislators unanimously passed a resolution urging New York State Legislators to save our lever machines instead of waiting until April 20, the date they had originally scheduled for the vote.

The county legislators are responding to citizens' concerns that a switch to optical-scan computers with a history of hacking and breakdowns common to all computers would not only endanger the safety of our votes, but would also vastly increase Greene County's budget and require huge tax increases.

Op-scan computers cost between $11,000 and $12,000 each, with the total cost varying with each county. According to Mary Jo Jaeger, Deputy Budget Officer for Greene County, the cost for Green County came to $352,500.00 for 30 machines. Of this, she said, the county paid 5%, which came to $17,625.00. The other 95% was paid with federal monies. However, she says, that was only for the initial purchase of the machines. Her office has not yet compiled the figures for future operations of the computers, which will be the county's full responsibility. Over the long term, say citizens who want to save our levers, maintenance, storage, and testing, along with very expensive technical support, training, and paper ballot costs, could easily raise those figures to many millions, while keeping our levers would not significantly add to our tax burden.

Keeping our levers became possible in November 2008, when New York installed ballot-marking devices (BMDs) in every polling place for people with special needs, which made New York's levers fully compliant with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The drawback at this point, says Irene Miller, founder of New York Citizens for Clean Elections, is the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA), "which New York State legislators passed in 2005, mandating computer voting. But ERMA was passed before we got the BMDs that made our levers compliant with HAVA. Rescinding ERMA would pave the way to save many millions of taxpayer dollars and our most fundamental protection of democracy---a trustworthy, secure vote, which is not possible with computers, but is possible with our levers, which have served us very well for many decades."

Miller says some of the problems inherent in optical-scan computers are:

• There is no way to verify that a computer is internally counting voter-verified ballots as cast because computer software is mutable, meaning that the software can be programmed to invisibly "modify itself during an election and then modify itself back to its pre-election state after the election. This can happen even if computers are certified. A National Institute of Standards and Technology study and dozens of other computer-scientist studies clearly show that computers can be programmed to function one way during certification testing and another during an actual election."

• Optical-scan computers would require hand counts because of their ability to mutably change scanned voter-verified ballots. Currently, the state mandates a 3% hand count of op-scan ballots, which ignores a computer's mutable ability to comply with the hand count. If a discrepancy should be identified at 3%, all paper ballots would, presumably, be recounted by hand, which would take a great deal of time, be enormously costly, and add a serious concern about chain of custody, which means continuous observation of all voted ballots by representatives of all parties would be required until the entire count is completed in order to prevent any possibility of vote tampering. Lever machines are not mutable and chain of custody is far less of a problem with them.

For a clear demonstration of how scanned voter-verified ballots can be easily switched inside optical-scan computers without a trace, Miller recommends the HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy".