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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."
-Mohandas Gandhi

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.

Originally posted to DocGonzo on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:37 AM PST.



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Comment Preferences

  •  You mean Albany actually did the right thing? (10+ / 0-)

    I guess if you live long enough ;)

    Still, I will miss the lever machines - something so satisfying about actually pulling that red handle back, making your vote offical.

    Try to make the Democratic party the party that you think it should be - but not at the cost of losing.

    by Matty NYC on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:42:52 AM PST

  •  the very first vote I cast in NYC (8+ / 0-)

    was on the pull lever machines
    every single subsequent vote I have cast has been on those machines, and I have cast ALOT of votes since that first one.

    maybe I'm nuts but i LIKE those old pull lever machines, and I will miss them when they are retired.

    what I, a NYer, am not happy with is the decision to switch to es&s and sequoia systems...but if we aren't going to change systems before 2008's presidential election its ok (for now)  but I want iron clad insurance that these companies with questionable histories of LESS then clean elections are carefully checked out, re-checked and then CHECKED AGAIN.


    by KnotIookin on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:45:02 AM PST

    •  Same here (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Andrew C White, peace voter, DocGonzo

      There was something incredibly reassuring about the ritual of pulling the big lever to close the curtain, pulling the little levers to vote, and then pulling the big lever once more to record the vote and open the curtain back up.

      For a long time I assumed that was the ONLY way to vote, that is until I left New York and moved to DC, where I encountered paper ballots for the first time. "How quaint" thought I. Then I moved on to San Francisco.

      I never really trusted the punch cards California used to use; the optical scanner versions aren't too bad but apparently the readers are not that reliable, which is why Debra Bowen has required hand counts of votes in all counties that still use them (like SF County, for example). Then too, there was the incident of boxes of ballots turning up floating in San Francisco Bay. Not something that gives you a sense of confidence that your vote's actually being counted.

      •  Hand Counts (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Woody, TheMomCat, peace voter, KnotIookin

        The only count that should be official should be a hand count. The automated counts should be available for immediate reporting in the news. But if the hand count is different from the automated count, then the hand count should be used. And of course an investigation, using those paper ballots as evidence, should immediately find the guilty parties. And hang them in public.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:49:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  i loved those machines (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, betson08

    and texas phased them out years ago...even after all the problems with the "touch screens" my reps, state and federal assure me that there's no problem.

    i guess i just need to not question anymore since it doesn't seem to do a damn bit of good!

    i would rather live on my feet than die on my knees -- emiliano zapata

    by labwitchy on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:46:38 AM PST

    •  Complaining Matters (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Matty NYC, Woody, peace voter, TiaRachel

      In NY, NYC at least, "complaining" is our national pastime. and now look: we complained enough that they replaced our machines not with crap, but with paper trail systems.

      It's worth complaining, especially when it gets results. It's not too late to complain in Texas, and now you can complain "but why can't we do like New York did?"

      "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

      by DocGonzo on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:53:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great news (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, DocGonzo

    The last shall be first

  •  But... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, betson08, DocGonzo

    Voting means those machines to me. I rember seeing them in the school when I was a kid, and I've been voting in them for over 30 years.

    I'll miss them. But I agree that a paper trail is a good thing.

    This is CLASS WAR, and the other side is winning.

    by Mr X on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:49:21 AM PST

  •  But I like the machines (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    betson08, sfbob

    They're cool.

    Having it both ways: Wage a scorch the earth campaign to win a primary, and expect the people who live on that scorched earth to vote for you after.

    by bhagamu on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:49:27 AM PST

    •  They're so ... analog! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      labwitchy, DocGonzo

      They have that mid-20th-century world-of-the-future thing going on. And when you vote, the "chunk" sound the lever makes is so satisfying. Okay, I have now VOTED, I always think.

      But a paper trail is good, I guess.

      You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott

      by javelina on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:08:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  i'll be missing the lever also (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, betson08, labwitchy, DocGonzo

    there was something solid about those old relics  :)  but hey, in this day and age of "must have a new system". i'll take a paper trail!

  •  That should help, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DocGonzo, greenchiledem

    since the problem with the lever machines isn't in the recount, it's in the original count at the end of the day when each machine is opened and the results are read out loud and then sent to the Board of Elections.

    Of course, everybody has the right to actually read the results on the counter - provided they can push past  five burly cops and six overfed ward heelers.

    Good thing they'll be using those machines on Supertuesday - I'd hate to see all those Hillary Clinton voters denied their rights just because somebody made the numbers up on the spur of the moment.

    When people say Hillary has the support of "The Machine," they mean it.  

    Forthcoming from the Orange Press: "Planet Marx."

    by Trotsky the Horse on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 11:51:23 AM PST

    •  As a poll worker I disagree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Woody, javelina, DocGonzo

      I worked the polls last year on Long Island. At the end of the day, the people from each party together open the back of the machines. One from each party gets up there and reads the numbers to another person from that party. The dems get to create their own list of results, as do the Rethugs. Everyone is present, can see and verifies that each other is reading the numbers correctly. No pushing, no obstruction, it's a great example of each side checking the accuracy of the other.

      And there aren't any burly anythings around to impede anything. It was a very good system. I am a witness.

      •  "Poll worker?" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Matty NYC, DocGonzo

        Were you working for a party "Election Observer") or for the Board of Elections ("Inspector of Elections"), or maybe both?

        Maybe that's the way they do it on Long Island, or maybe that's the way they did it on Long Island in the particular precinct where your worked. Something tells me the good old days of Al D'Amato weren't quite like that.

        I've done this on and off for close to forty years, in New York City and elsewhere, as an observer for several parties. I could tell you things.

        But then again, I could also end up wearing a pair of 11B size concrete sneakers...

        Forthcoming from the Orange Press: "Planet Marx."

        by Trotsky the Horse on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:14:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Colorado too! (5+ / 0-)

    Paper ballots win over Ritter, Plan upsets clerks' call for all-mail vote
    Colorado Clerks & Recorders Assn. was pushing for mail only election. The Governor took care of that fantasy.  
    What a waste of money we have spent on uncertifiable eletronic voting machines in my county, our state and country. What a joke HAVA and the agency overseeing it has been.

  •  I'm moving to NY (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TheMomCat, betson08, DocGonzo

    to cast my vote.

    (yes, I'm wishing I could)

    sign the petition at

    by DrKate on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:00:45 PM PST

  •  Even my children (6+ / 0-)

    will miss those machines when they are gone, since they accompanied me into the voting booth many times, and were allowed to pull the big lever to Vote and Open the Curtain.

  •  Thanks for the diary btw (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    javelina, DocGonzo

    I've been following this through emails, and am glad to see someone diarying it. I didn't see Andrew's.

  •  Thanks. We have voted on paper with optical (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peace voter, javelina, DocGonzo

    scan counters since we moved to Durango. Before then I have used mechanical machines and punch cards, and there is no comparison. Paper ballots that are scanned and can be hand counted are the best. Period.

    •  Good to hear (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Gary Norton

      This'll be new to me - have voted since the early '80s on the New York machines ...

      You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do. - Anne Lamott

      by javelina on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:10:56 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  As was proved in the recent New Hampshire recount (5+ / 0-)

      We all owe Dennis Kucinich a huge debt of thanks, and I don't think he's getting his due.

      Knowing that he would not be able to use the debates as a platform for progressivism any more, Kucinich used the last of his campaign funds to pay for that recount, which verified the accuracy of the early-reported results, proving that paper ballots counted by optical scanners is the best and most practical medium for our elections.

      He provided us all with a firm example of why it is important to use paper ballots, and provided his constituents more support for the argument that Cuyahoga County's touchscreen machines must be tossed on the trash heap.

      He done good.  Let's give the guy some ups.

  •  I vote absentee in NY (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and this year as I reside in another country as well, I can vote on line. And only because I am a Democrat, the Republicans still have to mail theirs. It is a secure site and provides a printable copy of your vote.
    I have only voted once on those old machines and would have felt more confident about my vote being recorded on a paper ballot dropped in a sealed box.
    This might have happened sooner if NY didn't have a "gentleman farmer" Republican governor that was the puppet of the NY Senate Republican leadership. Not that the Democratic leadership is much better.

    "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes" Wm. Shakespeare, "Macbeth"

    by TheMomCat on Fri Jan 25, 2008 at 12:48:41 PM PST

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