New York State’s highest Court has upheld lower Court decisions to stop any further counting of ballots and declare a winner in the 7th Senate District race. The decision is unfortunate on many levels, not the least of which is that it sets legal precedent in the State for how we verify election results by auditing and recounting paper ballots. New York’s Courts have now ruled, in essence, “We do not use paper ballots to verify elections.” The Court, displaying a lever-machine mindset, believed it’s okay to trust the machine. It never was of course, but New York has never had a way to verify election results before. The Court didn’t understand why we need to compare machine reported results with a manual inspection of ballots in the audit, failing to grasp that the way we get to the real result is counting the paper, not avoiding it at all costs.
In the first test case of how we verify election results using New York’s new paper ballots, the State Judiciary is in the process of setting an egregious precedent – Judges are free to nullify audits and recounts in the interests of having a quick decision. In Nassau County’s contested 7th Senate District (SD7) race, two State Courts that have heard the case to date have made very bad decisions. Ruling that even if New York’s audit laws require a further hand count of paper ballots, accepting the machine results and declaring a winner outweigh the public’s right to know who really won the election. [ See news reports here and here.]
The Johnson and Martins dispute demonstrates the typical dynamic in close political contests when paper ballots are available to inspect – regardless of party affiliation, the candidate in the lead wants to stop further ballot counting, the candidate behind wants to continue. And the Courts almost always become involved in one way or another. In the SD7 case, Johnson asks the Court to order a full manual recount, since several machines failed the initial 3% audit. Martin’s legal team on the other hand argues that “At the end of the day we must balance accuracy with finality”. The meaning here is hardly disguised – stop counting ballots, we’re more interested in winning than getting an accurate result.
A new study commissioned by the state of Maryland has just taken a close look at the relative cost of optical-scan paper-ballot voting systems compared with electronic touch-screen systems, and found that optical-scan paper-ballot systems are less expensive . These findings are timely and important not only for Maryland, but for other states as well. With Maryland’s direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs) approaching the end of their useful lifespan, the report by the Department of Legislative Services notes that using the systems becomes increasingly risky as the machines age. The report recommends that the State should move to implement optical scan systems for “long-term cost-effectiveness and cost control.” and that “Maryland would spend $9.5 million less on an optical scan system than it would on a DRE system. Both [Operations and Maintenance]and capital costs are expected to be lower over the long term under an optical scan system.”
Using current costs of service contracts and cost proposals submitted to the State, the study concludes that “Overall, the cost of continuing to use the state’s current voting system will be higher than transitioning to an optical scanning system.” The study compared price quotes submitted to Maryland with five other states and ascertained that “the proposed purchase of the optical scan devices and related equipment appears to be in line with what other jurisdictions have paid for identical equipment. In all cases where direct comparisons can be made of ES&S pricing on software and hardware from past contracts, the price quotes in the Maryland response are comparable or better.”