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County Campaigning for the Paper Ballot/Optical Scan Voting System

Our campaign this year across New York State centered in Albany and aimed to influence the state legislation for the implementation of the Help America Vote Act. Our success in that campaign resulted in the final version of the legislation (The Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005), which unlike earlier bills, allows for the best choice of the voting system: hand-marked paper ballots and precinct based optical scan ballot counting (PBOS), supplemented with a ballot marking device for the disabled.

However, this system was not adopted as a standard for the whole state. Furthermore, since the choice between PBOS and electronic touchscreen/pushbutton voting machines (DREs) was delegated to county election commissioners). We now must mount vigorous campaigns in each individual county.

This contents of this page can be downloaded here for printing.

Following is a summary outline of advice drawn from NYVV experiences with county campaigns. Click on the links below to go directly to the detail for the topic.

I. Reaching the Public - public pressure on county officials is essential.

  • Start a Petition Drive in Your County
    We are launching a statewide petition drive, getting as many signatures as possible as quickly as possible from people who want the PBOS voting system rather than DREs. The petition is addressed to county officials, but copies will be sent to other officials and groups.
  • Get press and media coverage
    Work with regional weeklies, dailies, and radio programs.

II. Reaching County Officials

  • County Election Commissioners
    The state legislation gives these appointed election officials, representatives of the two major political parties, the power of decision about our voting system. We must tell them we do not want DREs, since most of them favor electronic voting systems. We need to tell them that the primary criteria for judging a voting system are reliability, accuracy, transparency, security, accessibility, and verifiability; the PBOS system is judged superior on these values by experts in computer science as well as citizens groups like the League of Women Voters. Convenience to Boards of Election is secondary to the values essential to democracy.
  • County Legislators
    Since elected county legislators are responsible for the county's fiscal health, they should see the evidence that the PBOS system is more cost effective in terms of initial acquisition as well as long term maintenance, storage, and replacement. They also should be reminded of the importance of the primary criteria listed in the previous paragraph for the health of our democracy.

III. Overall recommendations

  • Tips about networking and organization.

I. Reaching the Public

A. Start a Petition Drive in Your County

  • Name one person as central to this drive in the county. This person should keep track of who is passing petitions and make sure they are gathered up periodically and that copies are made. The petition can be downloaded here.
  • Determine periodically the most effective way to deliver a quantity of completed petitions to the Election Commissioners and County Legislature . For example, you might give the originals to the commissioners, and leave two copies with the clerk of the legislature.
  • Send hard copies of your completed petitions to New Yorkers for Verified Voting. Email us at contact@nyvv.org to find out where to send the petitions. We will be sending petitions from all over New York State to the State Bo ard of Elections, legislators, and other officials .
  • When you approach people with the petition have with you both a flyer with the pictures of components of the system and a one-pager setting up the problems with DREs in comparison.
  • Carry petitions for the PBOS system to various celebrations, fairs, and farmer's markets. Usually one has to apply in advance to do so. Non-partisan public service organizations will often not be charged a fee.
  • Make name tags to identify yourself when you work in public spaces.
  • Be conscious that many people now are suspicious of any technology when it comes to voting. Use language like “ballot counter” at least as often as “optical scanner.” Stress that the scanner only counts the votes; the hand-marked paper ballots are the direct record of the voters' choices. Sometimes mention that they are familiar with scanners from grocery check-outs; they are familiar with the ballots from tests and lottery tickets, etc.
  • Usually you will need to approach people actively, saying something like, “Do you know that we must replace the lever voting machines by 2006? We are here to explain the most reliable system the county could choose.” Have in hand a flyer with pictures of the components of the PBOS system . Nothing works so well as to point to the pictures, and talk through how sensible the PBOS system is, ending with the fact that “the ballot you yourself have marked drops down from the ballot counter into a locked ballot box and is there for any recounts and the required audits.” Download a sample script here.
  • Have additional literature available for those who want fuller explanations of the system. There are one and two page summary analyses of the “Advantages of the PBOS” as well as the longer “ Advantages of Paper Ballot/Precinct Based Optical Scan Voting Systems …”on the website. Also popular are other downloadable documents on the website, e.g. “ Miami-Dade,” “ Refuting Sequoia ,” etc. Especially if you talk with election workers or persons worried about costs, you may want to have a few copies of the NYVV Critique of the Election Commissioners Association Report and/or the documents on “ Comparing Annual Costs ” and “ Paper Ballot Costs and Printing .” Some like to have copies of materials from additional sources, such as the Senate Rules Committee Testimony of David L. Dill, (Prof. of Computer Science, Stanford University and Founder of Verified Voting Foundation , June 21, 2005.
  • When setting up in farmer's markets and county fairs, etc., try the Be a Patriot sign , mounted on colored poster board and standing on a card table Consider buying something like a Red, White and Blue bunting to tie around the front of the table. Additional large hand-made signs might say something like: Save Our Democracy! New York Voters, Sign Our Petition!
  • At major events (fairs, musicfests, etc.) have petitions ready for those from neighboring counties as well as for your own.
  • Encourage people to carry the petition to others in ways that work best for them. Standing in the heat and humidity at fairs and farmers' markets is hard for some folks. They might, however, simply go from door to door to their neighbors.
  • Remember to take care of yourselves. Working in the sun and humidity requires precautions . Even if you still are getting signatures, know when it simply is time to go home.

B. Get press and media coverage

  • Make sure to notify the press (regional weeklies as well as dailies) of what you are doing. Of course, write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. Use EVERY opportunity to get press. But keep in mind that the press will not write about something unless there is an event or occasion to cover.
  • Consider buying advertising space in the regional papers for special events, thus encouraging the papers to give you additional press. Of course, evening or weekend events get the best turn out.
  • Try to establish positive relations with the editors of your regional papers. Send them significant press releases that you receive from NYVV. Try to convince them of the superiority of the PBOS system, so that you might get an editorial endorsement.
  • Have copies of documents you prepare for meetings ready to give any members of the press who cover the event.
  • Get on local radio programs, especially popular call-in shows.

II. Reaching County officials

  A. County Election commissioners

  • Since the election commissioners now have the power of decision, use every tactic possible to make sure they know that citizens who favor the PBOS system will stay actively involved in the process and will continue to hold them responsible for their decisions. Meet with them, write to them, and call them.
  • When passing petitions, make sure that you distribute the contact information for election commissioners and encourage citizens to call or write them as well as sign the petition for PBOS.
  • Remind people that election commissioners are political appointees. Their terms of office will have to be renewed. Keep in mind that the legislature appoints the election commissioners on the basis of the recommendations of the county Republican and Democratic committees. Use the leverage of county Republican and Democratic committees to remind them that the commissioners are responsible to voters.
  • Try to discover whether your commissioners have gone on record as supportive of the DREs. Have they supported a certain DRE before certification takes place? If they have, ask for any written communications about this, under the Freedom of Information Act. Consider asking under the Freedom of Information Act specifically for the correspondence between your Bo ard of Elections and the HAVA Conference Committee, especially during Spring 2005. Try a Google search for any public statements made by your election commissioners.
  • Keep in mind that statewide and regionally, election commissioners have been and are strongly urged to purchase DREs both by their colleagues in other counties and by vendors. Study the recent Election Commissioners of New York Report on the two voting systems. Note how biased against PBOS it is by using the NYVV “Critique and Corrections to the June 2005 Election Commissioners' Association Report on Voting Technology.”
  • Keep in mind that your election commissioners may have advised poll workers in ways that encourage them just to wait, since the Bo ard of Elections will keep them updated. Election workers may be those most resistant to conversations about signing the petition. Influential organizations like the Election Center ( www.ElectionCenter.org ) have voting machine vendors as members along with election workers; they have encouraged unquestioning trust in DRE technology and the good will of the vendors.
  • Make sure that your commissioners notify you of any voting machine demonstrations. Insist that a spokesperson for NYVV be invited to speak, since the vendors devalue and misrepresent the PBOS system.
  • Press your election commissioners to hold public meetings at which they will discuss the criteria they will employ in choosing a voting system with the public.

B. County Legislators

  • Try to identify at least one or two county legislators who are concerned about the choice of a voting system. Spend time with them, in person or on the phone/email/letters. Share the various materials prepared by NYVV. If you can convert even one legislator, s/he might advise you about timetables and arrangements with regard to implementation of the state legislation and/or bring constructive resolutions to the sessions dealing with the voting machine issue. You often can find friendly legislators who are concerned about democracy—or at least about their fiscal responsibilities. The legislators have inside lines for communicating with their colleagues.
  • Be aware that the legislators tend to preserve a positive working relationship with the election commissioners, if for no other reason, because they depend on them for fair management of their own elections. Also keep in mind that most county legislators are currently up for re-election. If legislators are facing a challenge to their incumbency, they will pay attention to citizens, petitions, etc.
  • Getting important documents printed to distribute to the legislators and commissioners is worth the cost. You will find that some do not use e-mail-- or give it little attention. In your later communications, refer back to articles you already gave them, so that they know you expect them to pay attention to what you send to them.
  • Copy letters and information to both your election commissioners and legislators in ways that make sure they know others know they have received your communications.
  • Remind county legislators that, even if New York State gave the final decision to the election commissioners, the legislature is responsible for the budget as well as for long range maintenance, transportation, and storage. Make sure they get the relevant documents from the NYVV website.
  • Find out how to get on the agenda for your county legislature's monthly meeting. Can you get five minutes by having your own town's representative bring you forward? Consider presenting completed petitions at such a meeting.
  • Ask to appear before crucial committees that supervise the Bo ard of Elections and/or control the agenda.
  • Encourage people to write or call their own town representatives to the legislature, since constituents will have the most influence.
  • Ask the legislature to hold meetings open to the public about the choice of a voting system.
  • Ask the legislature to develop resolutions that support the certification of equipment for both systems so that counties have a real choice.

III. Overall recommendations

  • Consider organizing loosely, but effectively. It may help to have one or two persons understood as central coordinators of the county campaign. These persons should regularly consult with others in the core group as well as more widely. E-mail as well as telephone consultation seems to work best in our busy lives. Have your county coordinator contact New Yorkers for Verified Voting (email us at contact@nyvv.org) to keep us posted of progress and status in your county.
  • Connect with all political parties. Even if you disagree with them on other issues, democracy on this issue asks us to act out our identity as nonpartisan. If possible, put in the forefront of your campaign some people who are less identifiable than others in terms of partisan politics.
  • Network with other people through the NYVV website ( www.nyvv.org ). Many of us have resources already prepared (types of letters, documents, etc.) that might save you time.
  • Whenever possible connect with the NY State League of Women Voters, getting them to join you on certain efforts. Find out where there are chapters in your county. Contact the officers. The League also is campaigning for PBOS.
  • There will be costs for campaigning. Advertising, printing, gas, etc. Be prepared for this and willing to help with the costs; but also begin to imagine ways to appeal for support.

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