Officials in New York worry that voting machine flaws will cause problems in elections. (Photo: Wired Magazine)
Voting machines: New York officials fear use of defective ones.
Albany - New York is lagging behind the rest of the nation in its efforts to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002. But despite efforts to avoid the mistakes other states have made in hurriedly adopting voting technology before it is ready, the state could end up being forced to deploy defective voting machines.
HAVA was designed to prevent the chaos that plagued the 2000 presidential election, during which Florida became notorious for "hanging chads" on voters' punch cards that caused the invalidation of many ballots and put the election into the hands of the Supreme Court. New York remains the only state that has failed to comply with HAVA's mandate to eliminate lever or punch-card voting machines.
In a July 25 status report to a federal judge overseeing New York's HAVA compliance efforts, the state Board of Elections said two voting machine manufacturers, ES&S and Sequoia, and the company hired to test the machines, SysTest, have encountered an array of difficulties. The machines, whose price tags are in the neighborhood of $12,000 each, have displayed a host of defects - including missing hard drives and USB ports, software crashes and lack of documentation.
In December, Judge Gary L. Sharpe ordered that New York put these machines into use by September 2009, but the testing firm has failed to adhere to its schedule. Thus, no new machines will be deployed by the Sept. 8, 2009, primary election, the Board of Elections told Judge Sharpe, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York in Albany.
Bo Lipari is executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. He fears that the federal Department of Justice, which has sued New York to force HAVA compliance, may force New York to deploy these machines before they can be properly certified.
"We're waiting to see what DOJ will argue and what the judge will decide," Mr. Lipari said in an interview. "Will he order the machines into use right away? Or will he say that New York has a right to demand quality from its vendors?"
Part of the problem is that the state Board of Elections has adopted stricter criteria for voting machines than other states have.
"We do have higher standards than other states because we've seen the problems that other states have had," said Mr. Lipari, whose organization advocated those higher standards, which do not allow touch screen machines that have been problematic elsewhere.
Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have all selected the Sequoia ImageCast machine, which optically scans paper ballots, as have a vast majority of the state's other counties, including Clinton, Essex and Franklin. But testing must be completed before the machines may be put into service.
Thus, in November, New York will be the only state still using the traditional lever machines, which do not produce an auditable paper trail of voters' choices.
"We are the last ones standing," Mr. Lipari said, adding that New England has moved to optical scanners "over the past couple of years," with Connecticut completing its transition in 2006.
New York also is required to deploy ballot marking devices by this September. These are devices to aid blind people and those who speak English as a second language in properly marking their ballots.
While Long Island's Nassau County rejected further deliveries of these machines, also made by Sequoia, from the state July 1, Mr. Lipari said that he believes this issue will be resolved on time.
"I expect it is highly unlikely that we won't see these machines deployed," Mr. Lipari said. "They have a lower bar to meet - they only have to produce a paper ballot. They are not used in counting votes in any way."