Monday, September 14, 2009

NYC Never Sleeps! Village Independent Dems Opt Out of Op Scan

Keep-the-Levers Resolution passes after informed public debate.

The more you know about lever voting machines, the more you want to stay with them. This experience - that an informed public prefers lever voting over the vagaries of electronic vote scanners - was demonstrated once again on July 9th at a debate at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery in Manhattan. The event was sponsored by the Village Independent Democrats, a 53-year-old organization established to provide a constant and rigorous examination of local and national issues in the light of independent, liberal Democratic principles. True to their goals of promoting measures designed to serve all the people and to further the interest and participation of all citizens in the civic affairs of their community, the VID presented "The Threat to Voting in New York and What to Do About It" featuring Douglas Kellner, Co-Chair of the New York State Board of Elections, New York University Professor Mark Crispin Miller, renowned author of "Fooled Again: The Real Case for Electoral Reform" and attorney Andi Novick, founder of the Election Transparency Coalition.

The pros and cons of computerized vote counting, paper ballots, and lever machines were discussed in a well-structured format that, while strictly controlled by the moderator, eventually allowed everyone to participate. For perhaps the first time in a public forum, the hard questions about computerized vote counting were asked -- and at least partially answered.

Among the public participants during the energetic question and answer period, were Columbia County Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin; Teresa Hommel, Chair of the Community Church of New York's Task Force on Election Integrity; and E-Voter Education Project Founder Howard Stanislevic. The experiences of these professionals added an even broader perspective to the information presented by the invited speakers and elicited by audience questions.

Highlights of the evening have been distilled into the following 15-minute video. With additional commentary explaining the precedents established by the rulings of New York's highest court, this video demonstrates concisely how New York's new election law will violate the inalienable right to self-government. We urge all New Yorkers and voters everywhere to watch it:


Professor Miller discussed the culpability of vendors in the punch card debacle that brought us the 2000 Presidential Election in Florida, paving the way for the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and the resulting rush to more electronic vote counting. Miller also spoke of the relative lack of media coverage regarding such events, and the questionable results of more recent optical scan elections. He said that such negligence leaves the majority of the public unaware of the extreme hazards of e-vote counting both here and abroad.

Commissioner Kellner agreed with, and in fact was the first to promulgate, the position of Andi Novick and the ETC that lever voting machines are allowed under HAVA and that it is ERMA -- the New York State legislation -- which mandates the replacement of the lever machines with electronics. But the Commissioner then confused the issue by declaring that New York is under federal court order to replace the levers, as if the federal court had determined HAVA required the levers' replacement. But it is New York that entered into a voluntary agreement with the Department of Justice and federal court judge to replace the levers, as mandated in ERMA. The court 'so ordered' that agreement of the parties. The court never made a ruling that the levers had to be replaced. No one asked for such a ruling. The State was agreeing to comply with its own state law. As Andi Novick explained, the state law is unconstitutional, and an agreement based on unconstitutional law is void and unenforceable.

Although Commissioner Kellner stated that elections should never be decided on faith and trust, he was unable to respond when it was made clear by other speakers that New York would not be relying on the paper ballots to determine the outcomes of elections, but would in fact be trusting the computers. Commissioner Kellner is a conscientious administrator and, in all fairness, it should be noted that his equivocation is a reflection of the extreme duress our election officials are under to institute a fatally flawed system.

It was obvious and understandable that the State Board of Elections is ill-prepared to run elections on computerized voting systems. For example, Kellner, who routinely consults with computer experts, seemed unaware of the difference between source code and object code (the latter being the software that actually resides in optical scanners and the Election Management System PC that programs them). He incorrectly claimed that computer scientists, and presumably even election officials, could tell that the code running on the machines was the correct "source code." Notwithstanding his confusing source code with object code, however, the fact remains that no one can verify that correct software is running in a computerized voting system on election day. With such a misunderstanding prevalent, it's no wonder that election officials are willing to trust our votes to computer code and the vendors who write it.

Kellner finally admitted that New York will not be trusting the electronic machines after all, but instead, will be relying on the paper ballots. But this was clearly wishful thinking on his part. While Kellner seemed to imply that recounts could be had more or less at the drop of a hat, he offered no examples other than recounts of relatively few absentee ballots.

Novick insisted that the State's highest court has repeatedly declared post-election-night counting of ballots already counted at the polls to be far too dangerous to be used to determine correct election results. Only absentee, emergency and disputed ballots are counted post-election, she said, leaving the vast majority of paper ballots to be counted only by computers.

Columbia County Election Commissioner Martin asked Kellner about the costs of replacing levers with scanners. Kellner said the Federal government gave New York about $50-million to replace the levers, but he explained that it would cost closer to $200-million to finish the job. This is consistent with independent cost studies that have shown that all the Federal money provided to the State under the Help America Vote Act will be depleted after only one year of lever replacement by scanners.

Howard Stanislevic commented on the State Board of Elections' lack of action to beef up New York's future post-election auditing. The state will only verify 3% of scanner tallies -- barely enough to confirm the winners of landslide elections in gerrymandered districts -- despite many calls for stronger auditing requirements
for over a year by good government groups such as NYPIRG, Common Cause/NY and the League of Women Voters.

After the forum on July 9th, the Village Independent Democrats joined over twenty counties, several labor unions, the Association of Towns of the State of New York, individual towns, villages, good government organizations and thousands of New Yorkers in passing resolutions in favor of retaining lever voting machines. When the public is given the facts, they make the right decisions.