Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Brennan Center to SBOE: Don't Even Think About It

Tomorrow morning the New York State Board of Elections will meet to authorize the purchase of accessible electronic voting systems for every polling place in every county in the State. In accordance with an Order signed by federal Judge Gary Sharpe on January 16, 2008, all New York counties must deploy these accessible units in time for the fall primary. The decision made tomorrow will directly affect (and probably determine) which systems New York chooses to replace its lever machines in 2009.

The Brennan Center has sent the State Board a letter (joined by several other groups) that opposes any effort by the State Board to authorize the purchase of full-face DREs, and notes that we hope that "further litigation will not be necessary to preclude New York counties from purchasing voting machines that potentially will disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in violation of state and federal law."

The State Board is considering authorizing the use of two basic kinds of systems: full-face DREs, "or "touchscreen machines," which present every singly candidate, every race and every ballot measure on a large computer screen and prints out a "paper trail" which provides a record of the voter's selections; and traditional ballot marking devices, which present voters with a scrolling computer interface, that allows voters to consider a single race at a time, and uses that computer interface to mark a paper ballot that can later be read by an optical scan machine.

If counties are only allowed to purchase traditional ballot marking devices, they will almost certainly purchase optical scan machines (which read hand marked paper ballots and ballots marked by ballot marking devices) in 2009. If, however, the are allowed to purchase and choose the full-face DREs as accessible units in 2008, they will likely purchase full face DREs to replace all lever machines in 2009. This is a simple matter of economics and election administration: election officials generally prefer to have one system (all DREs or Ballot Marking Devices with Optical Scan machines) for everyone.

Based on scientific study, as well as interviews with members of the public who have used the accessible systems New York is considering, the Brennan Center has concluded that the full-face DREs being considered by the State Board present a confusing computer interface and inacessible paper trail "that predictably disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, who are disproportionately voters of color and disabled voters."

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