Opposition to Electronic Voting

Members of the Steuben Greens have been active on the issue of electronic voting. We are currently supporting efforts organized by the Finger Lakes Progressive Coalition to get a resolution on safeguards for electronic voting introduced in the Steuben County legislature. Local voting activists Susan and Gray Multer presented information about electronic voting issues at our October 2003 meeting and we have been following state and national developments closely.

Testimony Recommending Paper Ballots

April 23, 2003 Assembly Hearings in Rochester on
New York State's Implementation of the Help America Vote Act

Statement of Rachel Treichler, Green Party member, 2002 Green Party candidate for Congress, 29th C.D.

I have three points to make:

1. New York state should implement voting by mail like the state of Oregon. Voting by mail would significantly increase voter participation in this state. We should not adopt electronic voting machines. The loss of voter confidence that would result from the implementation of electronic voting machines would further reduce voter participation in this state.

2. Voter guides should be produced and mailed to all registered voters before an election. Providing necessary information about the candidates and the election process will increase voter participation

3. The domination of the HAVA Task Force in New York by Republicans and Democrats is undemocratic and violates the Help America Vote Act.

Let me elaborate these points.

New York should implement voting by mail

Vote-by-mail elections, conducted dozens of times at the local level in Oregon, Washington and Colorado and statewide in Oregon five times, significantly expand voter participation.

Studies show that in Oregon, where elections have been conducted solely by mail since 1998, mail ballots have increased voter participation by an average of nine percentage points. In 2000, nearly 80 percent of registered voters participated in Oregon's first all vote-by-mail presidential election, as opposed to 51 percent voter turnout nationwide. In the state of Washington, where voters may elect to vote-by-mail, using a permanent absentee ballot, 60% have chosen to do so.

Many voters in Colorado are voting by mail using a permanent absentee ballot system similar to Washington's. In the 2001 November election, 75% of Colorado voters voted in a mail ballot election. Over half of Colorado's counties, including Denver, and Boulder, chose to hold mail ballot elections rather than polling place elections in November 2001. In the November 2001 election, the Colorado counties that conducted mail ballot elections had an average voter turnout rate of 41% of eligible voters. Counties that conducted traditional polling place elections had an average turnout rate of only 32%..

Contrast this to New York, where in the 2002 elections in New York, only 30% of eligible voters turned out to vote.

Why does voting by mail increase voter turnout? The principal reasons are that

1. Its easier. Voters who are without transportation, disabled, or busy at work, can vote, and that

2. A voter can take as much time as time as he or she needs to understand the ballot and how the voting process works.

According to Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury writing in The New York Times on August 21, 2001, "It's not just that voters are attracted to the convenience of a system that allows them flexibility and works with their busy lifestyles. A major reason people like it is that they feel it allows them to better make informed choices. When asked to list the advantages of voting by mail in the Washington survey, convenience and “more time to participate and study the issues” were tied as the No. 1 responses."

Mail balloting saves voters time, money, and gasoline. It solves problems of voting access for the disabled, it eliminates the problem of voter IDs for first time voters and it accommodates preferential voting.

Voting by mail offers advantages to tax payers and election officials too.

Voter lists are much easier to accurately maintain with mail balloting. This is because ballots that are returned to election officials as undeliverable highlight registrations that must be checked. This helps election officials purge their registration rolls of ineligible voters.

And last, but not least, voting by mail is cheaper!

A Federal Election Commission book discusses the advantages of mail balloting for election administrators, "Innovations in Election Administration 11: All-Mail-Ballot Elections", notes that no pollworkers and no polling places are required with voting by mail:

No pollworkers includes: no recruitment; no notices to be sent; no classes to conduct; no distribution and retrieval of election day supplies; no last-minute cancellations from workers who had agreed to serve; no paychecks to cut and mail; no W-2’s to send; no pre-dawn election-day hours to line up replacement workers.

No polling places includes no polling place leases, telephones, utilities; no searching for or preparation of accessible locations; no frantic phone calls about locked doors; no preparation, set-up, tear-down, or emergency repairs of voting machines or devices; no confusion about where people must go to vote.

At a time of economic crisis in our state, we should not be buying expensive new voting machines when a far cheaper and more effective method of voting exists.

New York should not purchase electronic voting machines

Do not be seduced by the apparent convenience of "touch-screen voting" machines, or the "gee whiz" factor that accompanies flashy new technology. These machines represent a serious threat to democracy. They give control of vote counting to the private company that programs the machines, with no independent checks or audits. Much better alternatives are available for upgrading voting equipment.

Stanford computer Professor David Dill and the 110 computer scientists and technologists from universities and laboratories across the nation who have signed Professor Dill's "Resolution on Electronic Voting," tell us that all computer systems are subject to subtle errors. Moreover, computer systems can be deliberately corrupted at any stage of their design, manufacture, and use. The methods used to do this can be extremely difficult to foresee and detect. Without a voter-verifiable audit trail, it is not practical to provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of electronic voting systems by any combination of design review, inspection, testing, logical analysis, or control of the system development process.

The only tried-and-true technology for providing a voter-verified audit trail is a paper ballot, where the votes recorded can be easily read and checked by the voter.

If New York were to implement the use of electronic voting machines, which as I have said, provide no reliable way to detect errors in recording votes or deliberate election rigging, the results of any election conducted using these machines will be open to legal challenge. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that a constitutionally protected right to vote and to have their votes counted.

When electronic voting machines are used in voting booths, three violations of federal law take place:

1. Inability to observe if voting machines properly register votes

2. Inability to observe if voting machines properly count votes

3. Inability to enforce the Voting Rights Act, because of the inability to observe if voting machines are properly registering or counting votes

Of course, use of appropriate voting methods is not sufficient to guarantee election integrity. Elections must be administered to minimize the possibility of error and fraud, and maximize the likelihood of detecting them if they occur. Audits must not only be possible, audits must actually be conducted. If electronic counts are used from machines that also print ballots, or if paper ballots are counted electronically, manual recounts must be conducted with enough frequency to make the detection of error or fraud likely.

Voting by mail is a safe and secure way to conduct elections.

Colorado counties have been conducting mail ballot elections and handling high numbers of absentee ballots for years, yet reports of fraud or voter coercion are virtually non-existent.

There were no substantiated cases of vote fraud in Oregon in 2000. Tens of millions of ballots have been voted by mail in Oregon over the years, and election officials report no fraud problems.

A Federal Election Commission survey found that election officials across the country who had conducted mail ballot elections believed them to be just as secure as polling place elections.

Voter guides should be produced and mailed to all registered voters before an election

Providing necessary information about the candidates and the election process will increase voter participation.

Other states have been much more active in publishing voter guides which are mailed to all registered voters before an election. New York must take this opportunity to do that and to also use the federal funds that HAVA provides to expand and investigate new ways to educate all voters, new and old. Studies show that even longtime voters have erroneous ideas about the voting process and their rights and responsibilities.

The domination of the HAVA Task Force in New York by Republicans and Democrats is undemocratic and violates the Help America Vote Act.

Unlike other states, the New York task force fails to include a broad representation of other political parties and community groups. This does not serve democracy in our state.




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