Will You Get To Vote?
22 June 2007 by Wayne Stinson
For the past three years the Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project has been focused on the security of any new voting system election officials might choose. But there is a myriad of pitfalls which could affect your franchise.
We have learned, in part due to the efforts of Rep. John Conyers, that many Ohio citizens were deterred from voting during the 2004 presidential election. This was accomplished by simply failing to deploy a sufficient number of voting machines. This paucity of equipment resulted in very long wait times, in some cases as long as four hours, for college students and citizens residing in minority communities. It is reasonable to assume that some people could not, or chose not to, wait for such a long time and thus were cheated of their basic democratic right.
The New York State Board of Elections, as part of their administrative duties, must specify the service limit of a voting system. They have posted the proposed Part 6210 Routine Maintenance and Testing of Voting Systems and Operational Procedures for public comment. These regulations govern local BOE operations including the service limits of voting machines (the number of voters each system can be expected to serve).
The Voting Integrity Project has submitted commentary on these proposed regulations too lengthy to reproduce in their entirety here. One item relevant to this discussion is section 6210.19, subsection 1 which states in part: "...one DRE voting machine for every 550 active registered voters." (DRE = direct recording electronic, such as the LibertyVote machine which is favored by the Schoharie County Election Commissioners).
The state BOE is proposing the 550/DRE number in spite of the timing study they commissioned last year (referred to as the AIR study for the company that did the work) which arrived at a number of 351.5 voters per 15 hr. polling period (15 X 60 / 2.56 min. mean time to vote on a Liberty). 6210.19 Commentary offered to the NYS BOE by the Voting Integrity Project follows:
"Taking into account the AIR timing study results, this 550 service limit number seems to indicate that the NY BOE is assuming a voter turnout of something like 60% and that those voters will present in a very orderly uniform manner [like one every 2.56 min.?] so as to avoid long waiting times. It’s not going to work. The service limit needs to be much lower. Other jurisdictions have set limits much lower, some even less than 200."
Several jurisdictions using DRE voting systems were surveyed by New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Their voting machine service limits ranged from a low of 74 to a high of 328.
Schoharie County citizens will be interested to know that, even using the inflated service limit number in the proposed 6210 regulations, we will be required to buy at least 45 DRE machines. Of the 27 county election districts only 10 have enrollments less than or close to 550. The remainder will require two machines each. This is significantly more machines than anticipated by our election commissioners. In a recent quote attributed to Democratic Commissioner Cliff Hay he indicated that 35 machines would be needed. The 550/DRE rule demands 45 machines, 28 with accessibility devices and 17 without, and will cost $425,000.00, 33% more than the expected Help America Vote Act funds .
If a more realistic service limit is used, such as 250, the cost of the new voting machines will increase to over $650,000.00. This number does not take into account storage, transport, spare parts and ancillary equipment needed to maintain the machines and conduct elections. Please also remember the annual software license fees equal to 12% of the total contract.
The Voting Integrity Project has been advocating for paper ballot voting because of its economy and superior security. The following is excerpted from the Peacemakers Voting Machine Position Statement of 17 June 2006:
"...the Paper Ballot voting system. A ballot scanner can be trusted to count the ballots quickly, but only if the scanner is programmed and maintained by municipal workers, not by a private corporation, and the hand counted tally of paper ballots remains the official record of the election.
Therefore, Peacemakers of Schoharie County urges all New York citizens to refuse to accept electronic voting machines, to refuse to vote using an electronic voting machine, and to henceforth demand paper ballots for every election. There seems no better way for the electorate to express their will on this matter."
The proposed 6210 regulations also specify service limits for paper ballot voting systems. There is a service limit of 4000 voters per optical scanner and one voting privacy booth for every 300 voters. The Voting Integrity Project commented:
"We should not be miserly in deploying inexpensive voting booths. Voters should be encouraged to take as much time as needed to complete their ballot and they should be able to do so without anxiety about causing others to wait. The service limit for voting booths should be set no higher than 150 and, for the comfort of the elderly or infirm, the booths should allow voters to be seated while completing their ballot."
If the Schoharie County election officials and elected representatives want to ensure that no citizen is subjected to long lines and long waiting at the polls they should tell the NYS BOE to adopt a much lower service limit for the DRE machines.
If they want to provide a much more secure and economical system that will also provide a much more reassuring voting experience they should join the chorus of voting integrity advocates who are pressing for the paper ballot voting system.
Wayne Stinson is the coordinator of the Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project. He can be reached at 518-287-1463 or firstname.lastname@example.org .