Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How New Yorkers Could End Up Voting on Uncertified (and badly designed) Machines

The Albany Times Union has a very disturbing story today about what appears to be an attempt to do an end run around New York's strict certification process for electonic voting machines.

Liberty Election Systems, one of the vendors of these machines, plans to provide the Troy City School District with its (as yet uncertified) "full face" DREs (or touch screen) machines for "free" in the May school board election. This was, at least in part, accomplished at the suggestion of the Rensselaer County Board of Elections. Use of these machines in any other election would clearly be a violation of state law. But Troy school district officials believe that state election law does not apply to school board elections.

This doesn't look like an isolated incident. Rather, this appears to be part of Liberty's plan to get its machines used in as many local elections as possible (did we mention the state hasn't certified them as accurate, secure, accessible or usable yet?). Key graf from the Times-Union article:

Robert Witko, Liberty's president, said the firm did similar work in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, last year and is also working with South Glens Falls and Queensbury. He hopes for more such opportunities, calling it a way of introducing the new technology incrementally.

"It's a great steppingstone," he said.

Why are we bothered by this? Where to begin? It is a little troubling that Liberty is soliciting business from Renssalaer County AND giving one of the county's biggest districts free machines. And it's a little troubling that the state has not yet certified these machines as accurate, secure, reliable or accessible.

Finally, as we've noted whenever we can, the Liberty DRE and other "full face" DREs that New York is considering are inherently confusing. Contrary to basic usability principles, they list every race and every candidate on a single screen -- and as a result voters miss races. Usability experts are in near universal agreement that they're badly designed. The result is likely to be lost votes in every election -- including school board races in Troy.

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