The New York State Voting Equipment Certification Process
There are really two certification processes. One will be formal and established by State statute and regulation of the New York State Board of Elections. The other, unofficial process, varies by county and is guided by the strength and recommendations of the county boards of elections.
The unofficial process is already underway. Manufacturer's are making demonstrations of available equipment in many areas of New York State, usually hosted and encouraged by county boards of elections. This process is being driven by the manufacturers interest in persuading the county boards to recommend the latest and more profitable technology of direct recording electronic [DRE] voting machines.
The manufacturers, quite understandably, want the county boards to feel committed to DREs and recommend them to county legislatures as soon as possible. There is even some interest in getting the press and public on board with this very appealing high technology solution. County boards of elections are entranced by the dazzle and glitz, and relish the opportunity to escape from mechanical and paper based solutions of the past.
Unfortunately, what's most appealing to the election officials, politicians,and bureaucrats may not be what's best for voters and our democracy. Sometimes the best technology is not the latest development, and the latest development, in this case, is not reliable enough for this critical use.
The fundamental problem is not as much technical as it is human. We need to be confident that our vote is being counted as we intended and that it may be recounted reliably as well. As it turns out, the technology to do this should be less expensive HAVA compatible alternative, both to acquire and to maintain.
More states and counties around the country have had satisfactory results with paper ballots optically scanned [PBOS] than any of the alternatives. Now, for compliance with the Help America Vote Act [HAVA], there is even a device that allows PBOS to work for people with a wide range of disabilities.
The official process has also begun, for New York State. However late in adoption, we now have revised election statutes in compliance with the federal HAVA requirements. Among other things, these statutes direct the NYS Board of Elections to oversee the certification of any technology for use in the process of tallying the votes cast in NYS. The "Election Consolidation and Improvement Act of 2005" also repeals some provisions of earlier law and strengthens the authority of county boards of elections to select the equipment to be used.
The State Board of Elections has the sole authority to establish the minimum number of voting machines per polling place, taking a variety of factors into account, but there is no numeric guideline. The contracts for the equipment will be let by the State Board, if the county boards fail to act. This may become critical if, as the next election deadline approaches, the list of State Board certified machines is limited.
The State Board of Elections has not yet acted to establish the required citizens advisory panel, or publish a charge, or define the activity of such a panel. Neither has the State Board brought the procedural regulations before the public, for hearings, as required by law. Nor has the State Board released a request for proposal for a firm to accept equipment for evaluation and to make recommendation to the Board.
The spokesperson for the State Board of Elections has told NYVV that although New York State has received the allocation of funds for HAVA implementation, it remains possible that all or part of those funds could be lost if implementation is not satisfactory for the 2006 election cycle. Although it is not known exactly how the federal government may rule on that, it is clear that New York State is risking the loss of millions of dollars in HAVA aid.
NYVV has been assured by elected officials that PBOS equipment and the Automark device, necessary for HAVA compliance, will be submitted for certification, but that part of the State process has not begun, and the results remain uncertain. Consequently, the alternatives for the selection of county boards of elections and the comparative pricing for different units and quantities is uncertain.
This situation calls for citizen action. Everyone
with an interest in fair and credible elections for New York State
should take the time and make the effort to learn more about this
issue and join us in demanding
that we have the best election system possible, including verifiable
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