Thursday, February 04, 2010

We're All Concerned About New York's New Voting Machines Now

I blogged two weeks ago about the Brennan Center's serious concern that New York's new voting machines (to be used statewide for the first time this year) may cause massive problems. In short, experiences in Florida and Wisconsin strongly suggest that the way the machines are currently configured will lead to significantly higher error rates for voters, meaning potentially tens of thousands of votes being spoiled for no good reason. Well, we've been joined in our concern by virtually every voting rights and good government group in New York that focuses on these issues, including AALDEF, CIDNY, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, NAACP LDF, NYPIRG, New Yorkers for Verified Voting and the Women's City Club of New York. You can read a letter from all of these groups to the New York State Board of Elections here. It states in relevant part:

New York’s new optical scan machines will treat overvotes in a way that threatens the voting rights of millions of New Yorkers. As you know, unlike most optical scan systems, the ES&S DS200 and ImageCast machines purchased for New York do not automatically return overvoted or otherwise erroneous ballots to the voter for correction. . .

Overvotes are almost always mistakes and the letter and spirit of the [Help America Vote Act] requires that the state do everything it can to prevent inadvertent errors when voters cast their ballot on Election Day.

We strongly urge the Board of Elections to correct this problem immediately. The New York Board of Elections must require that the ES&S DS200 and ImageCast machines automatically return overvoted or otherwise erroneous ballots to the voter for correction.

The good news is that the fix for this potentially huge problem seems relatively simple. The Board of Elections should be able to request this change from the vendors and significantly minimize the risk of overvotes and spoiled ballots. Let's hope they make this happen, soon. We're going to keep the pressure on, and we'll keep you informed.


Anonymous said...

This post is actually misinformed. The machines the State has selected do in fact account for overvotes and give a warning screen to the voter before they are allowed to cast the vote. This gives the voter the opportunity to take their ballot back and correct the mistakes, or cast the vote anyway if they intentionally overvoted, or just don't care to change the way they voted. Please do your research before making statements that are simply not true.

Laura Seago said...

A response to our reader comment: As we wrote in our first post about this issue, the problem is not that the optical scanners in question do not acknowledge overvotes, but that they do not automatically reject them. The Florida study that we reference in our original post shows that voters using machines that show an error message allowing them to either request their ballots back or invalidate their votes for that race have a much, much higher overvote rate than voters using optical scanners that are automatically configured to return overvoted ballots, probably because the error message is confusing.

Anonymous said...

This is the problem with paper ballots: people are stupid and stubborn. You cannot just automatically reject the ballot due to an overvote because some people may actually intentionally overvote. With the levers, this was physically impossible, as you mentioned in the previous article, because the machines did not allow for it to happen.

Regardless, it is technically legal according to NY State Election Law for a voter to cast multiple votes for a single candidate across parties, i.e. a "cross-endorsement". Only one of these votes is actually counted for the candidate, but the voter is allowed to cast a vote under multiple parties. (For example if a candidate is running under both the Democratic and Green Party ticket).

For this, and multiple other scenarios, it is impractical, would simply waste more time, and cause more confusion to automatically reject a ballot that is overvoted. A voter who intentionally overvotes would never be able to cast their ballot because the scanner would immediately kick the ballot out every time.

Also, a comment from your previous article suggested that the voter could be helped with their ballot issues by a pollworker. Not only is this illegal, but it would completely wipe away any sense of voter privacy. An overvote screen on the system telling the voter exactly which contest contains a mistake is the easiest and fastest way to resolve this problem. If the voter wants to fix this, they know exactly which contest to fix and can quickly go back and fill out a new ballot, return to the line and cast their vote appropriately.

Finally, have you actually seen this "confusing" error message? The only way it could be considered confusing is if it is being read by someone who doesn't know anything about elections. It gives the exact contest on the ballot, and a specific reason for the overvote, giving the voter all the information needed to correct the mistake.