Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Price of Dysfunction: Example 42,431

The Times-Union today picks up on a topic I've blogged about here, here, here, and here: namely, that the State Board of Elections is divided (along partisan lines) about some important issues relating to the State's new voting systems, and the result may be that a federal judge -- rather than New Yorkers or their elected officials -- will end up making decisions that will decide which voting system New Yorkers use.

This didn't need to happen: the Legislature could have decided what type of system the state would adopt. Instead, it delayed and ultimately punted, leaving it to the counties and the State Board to sort things out. The result is that different counties are liable to purchase very different machines of very different quality. More troubling, those making these decisions are county election officials, who are being lobbied hard by those vendors, while having very little technical background to make the most important calls (i.e., should I buy optical scans or touchscreens for my county, and from which vendor)?

Digging deeper, some of the partisan divide at the Board appears to be just as much about which system counties should ultimately purchase as anything else. Should it be Optical Scans, by which voters fill out a ballot by hand and then feed into an electronic scanner, or should it be full-face DREs, which are very large computer screens (like ATMs on steroids) that voters touch to cast their votes?

Each system has its virtues:

On the one hand, the full face DREs will make lots of money for the vendors: they are more expensive and will bring fairly high, recurring fees for software licensing, programming, maintenance and replacement parts.

On the other hand, the optical scans (together with ballot marking devices for disabled voters) are far less confusing to voters (historically, they produce significantly lower error rates), should be easier to deploy and store (they are much smaller than full face DREs), and will generally be more cost effective for the counties buying them.

The legislature should have made the easy call long ago. Their failure to do so has potentially left the future of New York's voting machines in the hands of a federal judge. Here's hoping he makes the right choices.

1 comment:

Paul Newell said...

The NYS legislature will never act on fixing our electoral system. Unlike in most places, where these decisions are made on partisan grounds, in NY they are made solely on incumbency protection.
On this, as with so many of the issues of accountability and reform, Sheldon Silver and Joe Bruno are one and the same. Until these and other leaders are directly challenged by the voters, no progress can be made.