Monday, May 14, 2007

Actually, it's worse than Florida

The Times-Union has a scathing editorial today, rightly lambasting the State Legislature for leaving it up to the counties to decide which new voting system to purchase (under both federal and state law, the lever machines must be replaced), rather than require one statewide system. In particular, given the recent troubles with touch-scrren machines, the paper urges the statewide adoption of optical scan machines, which allow voters to fill out a ballot much the way they would fill out lottery tickets, and then have their votes read by a scanner.

The Times-Union notes that Florida has learned a lesson New York should learn: touch screen machines have serious flaws. Florida Governor Crist wants the state to replace its touch screen machines with optical scans for all Election Day voting. The paper opines:

More and more, it is becoming easier to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the various voting systems now on the market.
That certainly is the case now, thanks to the Florida experience. There's no doubt that Florida rushed too quickly to embrace touch-screen voting devices. The flaws in these systems, which operate much like ATM machines, have been pointed out by good government groups for years. Many systems lack an adequate paper trail, while others produce no trail at all. And they are vulnerable to hackers who can invade their software and skew results. Or the software may simply malfunction and fail to account for thousands, even millions, of ballots.

This isn't entirely fair. As the Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security made clear, Optical scan machines are vulnerable to software attacks and programming errors too.

More importantly, what the Times-Union misses is that New York isn't facing a choice between "ATM" style touchscreens and optical scan machines. The touchscreens New York must buy are "full face," meaning every single candidate and race are on a single screen (voters don't get asked one question at a time as they would on an ATM machine). The machines are outrageously expensive, difficult for many disabled voters to use, and (most importantly) because they are so confusingly designed, are likely to cause thousands of lost votes in every election.

If you think Sarasota's 18,000 lost votes in the last election was bad -- imagine that problem every election. That's reason enough, as far as we are concerned, to echo the Times-Union's call:

It's time then -- past time, really -- for New York's county boards of elections to make the right decision and select optical-scan machines throughout the state

No comments: