New York State, like many other states, has spent years since the 2000 election balloting catastrophes working back and forth through the problems of properly counting votes in elections. It has looked bleak, but the good news is that NY will be replacing its old mechanical voting machines not with untrustworthy electronic devices, but with more trustworthy devices that create a paper trail verified by the voters.
NY dodged a digital bullet. Read more of what we got, and how that helps the rest of us get it, too.
NY State has long used "lever machine" voting booths (that we call "iron maidens"), tiny mechanical rooms behind a curtain with rows of little levers and a long red lever like a guillotine to commit the entries. Reports of fraud against or using these machines are rare, and their vintage familiarity combined with their physical solidity go a long way towards inspiring confidence in the results being tallied properly in NY.
But after the 2000 national elections, the Federal government swung into action, creating among other programmes HAVA. Which, like so many Bush Era "reforms", had the effect of making the problem of untrustworthy voting machines and procedures worse (perhaps even by design). Among other groups, New York Verified Voting (NYVV) swung into counteraction to insist any change in vote collection require the voter to record their vote on a medium that the voter could verify indicated their choice, and that recording be prohibitively difficult to tamper with, and be stored for meaningful recounts. In short, a "paper trail" like so many people have realized is the minimum necessary technology to protect our elections from fraud.
Despite mountains of evidence and public outrage (to say nothing of disastrous consequences of installing fraudulently, or even mistakenly, elected candidates - like a president, for example), the state-by-state effort to require paper trails has taken longer than even the longest election cycle, the senate's 6 years, to deliver much satisfactory results. States continue to run elections on machines never proven trustworthy. Many machines and procedures, from the voting point to the compilation of totals to the reporting of results, have even been proven unacceptably untrustworthy, but are still in use, ensuring that at the very least public confidence in the elections is damaged, and tempting those who would like to rig them for their own benefit.
BUT NEW YORK JUST SAID NO. Today Bo Lipari of NYVV reported that NY is moving to a paper trail in 2009. The old lever machines will be used through the 2008 national elections, and then replaced by machines that record votes on paper for voters to verify, then get counted by optical scanners (and available for recount by any method, including by hand). This is a major, and nearly complete, victory for NY voters, and for voters across the country who will find it easier to follow NY's lead:
Friday, January 25, 2008
Paper Ballots for NY!!!
New York State Rejects DREs
"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."
I'm pleased to announce that after five years of hard work on the part of voting integrity advocates, New York State has rejected DREs and approved only the Automark and the Sequoia ImageCast scanner/marker for use in 2008 polling places. This momentous decision by the State Board of Elections virtually guarantees that New York State will vote on paper ballots and ballot scanners when it finally replaces lever machines in 2009.
Those of you who were with us at the beginning five years ago know what an enormous victory this is. When I first started traveling, presenting and advocating in New York, election officials, political parties, and machnne vendors assumed that New York State was going to be a DRE state. Precinct scanners were not under discussion, and only DREs were offered by vendors. Our experience over these five years reflects the truth of Gandhi's statement - indeed we were ignored, then laughed at, then fought bitterly by the voting machine vendors and their supporters in the election establishment. But finally, truth has prevailed, and what seemed like an impossible dream in 2003 has been made real by our hard work - New York State will be a paper ballot state.
Just yesterday, it seemed like high powered lobbyists had scuttled our hopes once again as they maneuvered to keep DREs in the mix even though they were in clear violation of New York's laws(see my post describing yesterday's events). But this morning, when the Board reconvened it was immediately obvious from the commissioners opening statements that those who were pushing for the DREs had conceded defeat. No small amount of thanks is due to Commissioner Doug Kellner (D), who firmly held the line yesterday and during a long night of backroom political maneuvering, vowing he would never approve the DRE submissions which did not fulfill the requirements of New York State election law regarding accessible voting machines.
While technically it is possible for a DRE vendor to submit and win approval for the 2009 lever machine replacement, this is highly unlikely as at least half of the HAVA funds will be spent on scanner compatible ballot markers. Since all the approved systems are components of a precinct based scanner system the least expensive path, and the only sensible one, is for counties to complete their HAVA implementation with paper ballots and scanners. We've learned to never be complacent, but this time we have reason to be confident that the scanner compatible choices of today will inevitably lead to paper ballots for all New York voters tomorrow.
My deepest thanks to everyone who fought this long, difficult battle. This is only Round One, and I promise you we will have much, much more to do to guarantee that our elections belong to the public, and are transparent and observable. But for today, let's break out the champagne, relax, and celebrate this great victory. What was once only a slogan representing what we fought for has now become a reality - Paper Ballots for New York!
Congratulations friends. Together we have changed the course of New York State election history, and 12 million registered voters in the Empire State will vote on paper ballots, not DREs.
As Lipari mentioned, just the day before it seemed that paper trails were doomed, and untrustworthy machines would be forced on NY voters by their industry peddlers and a weak government. Quite the roller coaster ride, as the decision to consider was announced with haste, looked bleak until the last minute, then finally delivered the right decision after all hope seemed lost.
This ball still needs watching, as end-runs are the favorite strategy in depriving people of our right to vote. But the fix is in, and this time in the phrase the word "fix" actually means "repair". Congratulations, New York, and thank you everyone who made this possible. The rest of you still struggling for paper trails, take hope, take a lesson, and take this battle, with NY's new trophy, even harder to your own states. Not only will we sooner than later have our paper trails, but even just public awareness of the decisions to start using them after the November 2008 elections will make it easier to question non-paper results in 2008 that look sketchy. And therefore help to deter them. Every vote counts, as does every victory towards getting there.
NB: Yesterday, Andrew C White diaried the apparent crippling setback that even NYVV was reporting a couple of days ago in "NYS Selects Voting Machines". Though he updated his diary with the actual (reversed) decision, I asked if I could diary the good news in its own right, and he agreed.