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Verified Voting Blog: Report from the Senate Hearings on the New York State Primary

On September 29th Senator Joseph Addabbo, chair of the Senate Elections Committee held a hearing on the recent New York State primary when new paper ballot and optical scan systems were used statewide for the first time. The hearing focused on reported problems that occurred in New York City, the largest election jurisdiction in the country with almost 4.5 million registered voters. In addition to the New York City Board of Elections, others giving testimony included the New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the Brennan Center for Justice, the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NYPIRG, Commissioner Doug Kellner of the State Board of Elections and others. Senator Addabbo chaired the hearing, with Senators Bill Perkins, Liz Krueger, and Daniel Squadron also attending.

The hearings started out focusing on the principal witnesses, New York City Board of Elections Executive Director George Gonzalez, President Julie Dent, and other key staff. While acknowledging that problems did occur on Primary Day, the Board seemed particularly unwilling to accept any responsibility for them. Alternately blaming lack of funding, insufficient time to prepare, not enough staff, rigorous pre-election testing requirements, media focus on problems, the Police Department and the Mayor’s office, the Board’s testimony was remarkable in its failure to admit any blame for Primary Day problems. If the public had a nickel for every time the City Board accepted responsibility for problems during the hearing, we’d be flat broke. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: Thoughts on the New York Primary

Despite the impressions received from media reports, the September 14th primary was not the first time that New Yorkers voted on paper ballots and scanners. In the 2009 off-year election, 47 counties in upstate New York used the new systems as part of a pilot program. This trial run taught participants valuable lessons, and New York City’s decision to abstain led directly to many of the problems reported there. In general, things went smoother upstate than in the City. Problem reports broke down into a few main categories:

Privacy Issues – One of the big lessons from the 2009 pilot was that voters felt that their ballots were too often exposed to public view. Some of this was inevitable – using a lever machine, surrounded on all sides by panels and curtains, the voter is in an isolation booth. Today, the small privacy booths where voters fill out their ballots are open on the back side, and if not placed correctly at the poll site (for example with the open side facing a wall) one can feel exposed. It’s very important that Boards of Elections think about layout and lines of sight within the polling place. A second frequent privacy complaint concerned carrying the paper ballot in plain view over to the scanner. This can only happen if Boards of Elections do not provide sufficient supplies of ‘privacy sleeves’ (folders which conceal the completed ballot) and adequately train poll workers in their distribution and use. Lack of privacy sleeves is an administrative failure, and is really inexcusable. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: An Important New Proposal for Voting Machines

If you’ve wondered why voting machine problems seem to occur again and again around the country and what can be done about it, the Brennan Center at New York University School of Law has an answer. A report released last week by the non-partisan organization, Voting System Failures: A Database Solution, found that in the absence of requirements to report malfunctions, vendors do not keep election officials informed about voting system defects. The report recommends several remedies for this pervasive problem. Among other conclusions, it calls for a searchable national database of voting machine problems to be created and made available to the public.

The report found that election officials “must rely almost exclusively on the voting system vendors for information about malfunctions, defects, vulnerabilities and other problems that the vendors have discovered, or that have occurred with their voting systems in other states“. Vendors “don’t have an incentive to inform [election officials] of certain problems with their systems”. Noting that this leads to repeated failures of systems year after year, ” these malfunctions – and their consequence, disenfranchisement – could have been avoided had election officials and/or public advocates known about earlier problems and had an opportunity to fix them”. Read More

Verified Voting Blog: How the Internet Works

If we can use the Internet to deliver blank ballots, then why not use it to return voted ballots? Part of the answer lies with the nature of the Internet itself. If we are to be sure that the vote cast is the same as the vote counted, we need a way to guarantee that 1) the voted ballot has not been substituted or altered in transit, and 2) the ballot received actually was sent by the voter, not someone impersonating them. But due to the way the Internet currently works, neither of these conditions can be assured. Before looking at sending ballots via Email, it’s helpful to understand how all Internet communication works, whether it be an email, website, file download, or tweet. What we now call the Internet grew out of research on connecting computers of different types and at different locations into a single network. One of the problems facing researchers was how to move electronic information reliably on pathways that are unknown and unpredictable. Two computers might be connected via a wire across the room, or across a huge network of sub-connections spanning the planet. Read More