Vote of No Confidence

New York shows up late in national push for clean voting

Miami-Dade elections supervisor Lester Sola said in a May 27 memo that the county should consider abandoning the touch-screen machines it purchased for $24.5 million three years ago and switch to optical-scan technology. Optical-scan devices use paper sheets, like the ones on standardized tests. Voters fill out their sheets and insert them into a counter that is supposed to alert them if they voted too often for an office or failed to vote for an office. The sheet provides an automatic paper record. Kivelson says optical-scan machines meet the League's criteria of being secure, recountable, and accessible. What's more, given the tight time frame the state faces, she says, "we think it would be less training and a less difficult system to have the public learn about."

Three companies are actively interested in the New York voting-machine market: ES&S, Sequoia, and Liberty; together, they've spent nearly $600,000 on lobbyists over the past three years. While Liberty makes only a DRE machine, ES&S and Sequoia produce both. But Perkins, State Senator Liz Krueger, and others allege that those companies are promoting their DRE machines over the optical-scan option. The motive, supposedly, is profit: DRE machines tend to cost less but you usually need more of them.

Calls to Liberty and Sequoia weren't returned, but ES&S spokesman Ken Fields says his firm has for months been pitching both products. One is the iVotronic LS, a DRE that is based on "proven technology" used in other states adapted to comply with New York's law, which requires a one-screen ballot, multiple languages, and a paper printout "that prints as a voter is going through the process of making decisions and allows them to look at what votes have been reported from that technology." The other is an optical-scan system. Fields says the firm intends to sell both products here.

photo: Richard B. Levine
Machine politics, New York–style
photo: Richard B. Levine

Daghlian says the hope in Albany is that the machines are selected and delivered by July. Then they'll be tested and staff will be trained. "So it's a tight—very tight—schedule, depends on a lot of people doing the right things at the right time," Daghlian says.

For New York's board, the work begins once the state certifies some voting machines. "I can't see it happening until early '06, and unfortunately, for us that's months and months too late," says John Ravitz, executive director of the New York City board of elections, which has already hired new workers to deal with the changeover. Because of the state law that has the dual deadline of 2006 for disabled voters and 2007 for everyone else, city election workers might be running two systems next fall. But that could raise concerns about equal treatment, opening the door to legal action from activist groups.

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