Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Star-Gazette Editorial (inadvertently?) Touches on A Larger Truth About Future Political Power in the State

In an editorial in support of a state ballot initiative to change the State's Constitution that the Elmira Star-Gazette says would improve Adirondack drinking water and create more wild-acreage, the paper makes passing reference to something that often gets lost in the debate over whether and how to replace our beloved lever machines: they are not very voter friendly.

What the current antiquated machines do worst is display statewide propositions in a spot where voters are most apt to miss them -- at the top of the machine ballot under Lilliputian-sized levers that people can easily miss. And they often do, according to voting results in New York.

This is true. As I noted in letters to both the New York City and State Boards of Election, historically, lever machines have the highest lost vote rate (32.1%!) in the nation for state ballot initiatives, because those initiatives are difficult for voters to find and read on lever machines.

But guess what? Full face touch screen machines, which many election officials would like to use to replace the lever machines, are the second worst of all voting machines for recording votes on state ballot initiatives. This is because on those massive computer screens, state ballot initiatives are also listed in a hard-to-read place, amongst tons of other information on the same computer screen.

As I noted in testimony to the City Council earlier this year, optical scan machines don't have this same problem. The difference between the systems is so great that New York City should expect to lose an extra 175,000 votes on every state ballot initiative if it purchases the touch-screen machines instead of optical scanners (which allow voters to fill out a paper ballot and then feed it into an electronic scanner).

This is an important lesson for election officials across the state. While so much of the debate around the move to electronic voting has centered around voting system security (certainly a worthy matter of discussion), this important point has mostly been lost: counties that purchase the full-face touchscreen machines will be giving away major political power relative to those that go with optical scans.

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