Thursday, November 08, 2007

What if the Solution is Worse than the Problem?

I just got back from a press conference held by Councilman Simcha Felder, in which he and a bunch of good government groups (including the Brennan Center, NYPIRG, the League of Women Voters and Citizens Union) denounced the DoJ's motion to force New York to replace lever machines with some kind of electronic voting system by November 2008.

I'm somewhat sympathetic to the DoJ's position that New York cannot ignore federal mandates to replace lever machines forever.

But their motion seems to miss two important points:

First, isn't the federal government itself at least partly responsible for the delay? The Election Assistance Commission had serious doubts about Ciber, the lab New York selected in 2006 to test its machines. But it failed to mention this to the State Board when it chose Ciber. Worse, for weeks after Ciber's problems were broken by the New York Times, the EAC apparently continued to resist the State Board's requests to find out what the EAC knew about Ciber's problems. New York has been forced to hire a new lab -- that's all put the State behind by at least a year.

Second, isn't this a case where the solution is worse than the problem? Failing to provide disabled voters with accessible voting systems (lever machines certainly aren't accessible) is a problem. A narrowly tailored solution would appear to be to ensure that there is one accessible voting machine in every polling place for 2008. Requiring the wholesale replacement of lever machines with inadequately tested voting systems, and using them for the first time in A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION seems like a recipe for a minor disaster: machine breakdowns, poll workers who are unfamilliar with the technology, long lines, and possible disengranchisment of thousands of voters.

Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until 2009 or 2010 to engage in such drastic action -- when occassional machine failures would be likely to do far less damage?

1 comment:

Anon in Albany said...

I think that laying blame on the Feds for something that happened in 2006 is a bit of a reach. When was HAVA enacted? (Answer: 2002).