Out with the Old Voting Machines?
by Ned Benton
26, 2004) Local voters in three upcoming elections will
be registering their choices using the old-fashioned
machines with small levers
handles that the federal government says must go by January
2006. The mechanical
machines do have their problems, but finding
and funding replacements is proving to be a challenge - here
and across the country.
John Caridi maintains the mechanical
lever voting machines used in Larchmont and Mamaroneck
Currently the local machines are being
checked out and tuned up for the three elections scheduled
- March 2 - New York State Presidential
- March 16 - Larchmont Village Elections (Village only)
- May 18 - Mamaroneck School District Board & Budget
Let nostalgia be
another reason for you to vote, because there may be only
a few more opportunities to use the old machines.
Out With The Old...
According to the NY
State Help America Vote Act Plan,
which was released last August as a draft for comment, all
lever machines are slated for replacement by January 1, 2006.
New York is among 24 states that have applied
for funds to replace punch card and lever voting machines, but they have also
a waiver of the deadline. These
states are basically saying to the Feds: "Show
money!" (See: Election
2004: What's Changed, What Hasn't and Why for a comprehensive
implementation of the HAVA act.)
the the Election Reform study, enthusiasm about alternative
voting technologies has worn off, as
voters and election administrators have raised concerns
about the reliability of the new systems. "Why compound
a problem by making a worse problem!" says Patricia
DiCioccio, the Town of Mamaroneck Clerk.
Dicioccio worries that
systems leave no audit trail. Until new systems are proven,
she wants to stick with the mechanical lever machines. "I
think they're wonderful, and I want to hold on to them
for as long as possible."
Problems In Other Communities
While Larchmont and the Town of Mamaroneck have
not experienced problems in recent elections, an Audit
of the State Board of Elections by the NY
State Comptroller reports numerous breakdowns of similar
mechanical voting machines across the state. The White
Plains Watch Online reported claims of machine malfunctions
at the Mamaroneck Avenue School during the November 2001 election.
During the same election, a voting machine
malfunctioned in White Plains leading to litigation
over the disputed election result. A
jammed - but only on
one candidate's line. Investigators for the Attorney
received 103 sworn voter affidavits claiming votes for
the losing candidate. These
103 votes would have been more than needed to overcome
the 47 vote differential
between the two candidates.
new machines are not being produced, used machines are widely
with parts and service. As an interim
measure, the Mamaroneck Town Council recently purchased three
used voting machines from a company in upstate NY.
These are the machines used in local town, village and
school district elections.
According to the Cal
Tech/MIT Voting Technology Project, the old machines
work compartively well: "Paper ballots, lever machines,
and optically scanned ballots have
and median residual vote rates."
(Residual votes are apparent votes that don't get counted.)
to John Caridi, who maintains Mamaroneck's Automatic Voting
Machines, "They are fantastic,
if they are handled properly you have no problem with
them. But they have to be maintained."
However, the Help
America Vote Act, a Federal Law passed in 2002 to
reform voting technologies and procedures, has raised
the bar. It requires that by January 2006, all voting
- allow disabled voters to vote independently
- allow voters to change or correct their votes
before casting a ballot;
- notify the voter of an "overvote" where too
many candidates are selected;
- produce a paper record that can be audited
- provide alternate languages for voters with
limited English proficiency.
The old lever machines can be lowered to accommodate
wheel chair voters, but can't comply with the other provisions.
Developments in Albany
The State Senate and Assembly are considering bills to implement
the HAVA act in New York. As is often the case, the Senate
Bill differs from the Assembly
Bill and differences will have to be ironed out. To qualify
for federal funding, the legislation must include a central
registration system and a program for replacement of the old
In With The New?
Board of Elections, with support and funding from the
Federal government and NY
State Board of Elections, is responsible for selecting
and purchasing the new systems. The state has applied for
a deadline waiver, and no consensus has yet developed for
replacement systems. Nationally, there is a lively debate
about possible new systems.
Internet Voting: While the
Michigan Democrats approved Internet
Voting for their 2004 Presidential Primary, the Department
of Defense deep-sixed their Internet voting project because
concerns about security and reliability.
Electronic Voting: Diebold
Election Systems is a major vendor of Direct Recognition
Electronic (DRE) voting systems. Their systems have been criticized
technical study, and there is an ongoing controversy
about Diebold's conduct. Walden O’Dell, the CEO
of Diebold and a major fund-raiser for the Bush re-election
campaign, wrote to contributors that he was “committed
to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president
next year.” He explained later that he didn't mean that
he would jimmy his company's machines. Another controversy
involved Diebold's attempt to enjoin the distribution of internal
Diebold communications that questioned thd reliability of
Verified Voting: Legislation
has been introduced in Congress to require voting systems
to provide each voter with a paper receipt to help assure
that each vote is correctly recorded.
Not So Fast?
One possibility is that the tough old mechanical
machines will outlast the federal deadline for their replacement.
While New York has received $66 million of the $235 million
projected cost of the reforms, the proposed
Federal Budget proposal provides only $40 million of the
$800 million that the Help America Vote Act proposed to continue
to support implementation in states and counties.
County Legislator George Latimer observed, "We
are watching how unfunded mandates are created -- Congress
enacts a law with a noble purpose, along with a promise to
fund the costs. When the funds don't come through, should
state and local governments have to pay the bill?"
With no agreed upon successor system and
no money, localities may be justified in staying
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