Sunday, October 25, 2009

NY: Election Official Would Refuse to Certify Electronic Vote Count

Columbia County Election Commissioner Testifies at Public Hearing

New York City,
Oct. 23, 2009 --

What might have been a quiet hearing of the State Assembly's Standing Committee on Election Law today became instead a public altercation as speaker after speaker criticized the State's move to electronically counted ballots. The change is slated to take effect next year, as outlined in the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA), which outlaws the state's time-tested and widely trusted lever voting machines.

Speakers took issue with the new voting systems on multiple grounds including cost, accuracy, and dependability. Concerns about votes counted in secret and the ease of manipulation of election results with the new system abounded.

Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin testified that "the mandated transition to electronic voting and vote-counting will likely prevent me as commissioner from doing my job, which is to certify to the accuracy of election numbers."

While she praised some of the State's actions to comply with new election law, she said the new computerized voting systems are poorly made and break down often, in contrast to the dependable lever voting systems currently in use. "If Columbia County starts using software to count votes, I will not certify an election unless an appropriately designed audit of the paper ballots is conducted. So far, the State Board [of Elections] has not mandated an audit that audit experts agree will expose inaccurate counts."

Commissioner Virginia Martin Testifying (Photo by Russell Branca)

Exorbitant costs are also of concern to Martin. "Boards [of Elections] across the state have encountered enormous resistance from their counties when they have tried to get the funds these unfunded mandates would have us incur. I know of two cases in which county budgets have tripled."

The panel was surprised to know that Commissioner Martin has an understanding of how the lever machines work. "I believe it’s critically important that commissioners and poll workers across the state understand how the machines work," Martin said. "In the case of lever machines," she added, "it’s simple."

More photos and testimony are available here.