Testimony of New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane to the New York City Board of Elections Regarding Proposed Voting Systems

November 21, 2006

My name is Thomas K. Duane, and I represent New York Statefs 29th Senate District. I am here to express my serious concerns about Direct-Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems, and strongly urge the New York City Board of Elections to consider some form of paper-based balloting.

Since elections in our country may be decided by razor-thin margins, it seems illogical to move toward a system of diminished accountability.

Two years ago in Westchester County, for example, a hotly contested State Senate race in the 35th District led to a protracted recount that lasted three months. By the time each and every vote had been recounted, the margin of victory was just 18 votes. How fortunate for us in New York State that we had a record of those votes.

I teach a high school civics class in Manhattan, and after the 2004 election I told my students about that race. gSee?h I told them. gEvery vote counts, and when therefs any question about the outcome, people will count all the votes, over and over, until they get it right.h

The integrity of our voting process must be preserved. Punch-cards donft do it, as they were rightfully ridiculed after the Presidential election in 2000. Lever machines donft do it, which is just one of the reasons wefre here today. And neither do DRE voting systems, which rely on software to translate a digitally recorded vote into something any human can recognize. And the software is only as strong as its least reliable developer. One need only consider the 18,000 missing votes in Floridafs 13th Congressional District earlier this month to recognize the pitfalls of touch screen technology, particularly in the absence of a paper record, as was the case in that district.

Software-based problems were raised in this summerfs gThe Machinery of Democracyh report from the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice, which noted that there are problems with electronic voting even when a paper trail exists. gThe voter-verified paper record, by itself, is of questionable security value. The paper record has significant value only if an automatic routine audit is performed.h This means that even the most critical paper ballots are moot if the results are never audited, because any hidden vulnerabilities to the voting system will go unchallenged.

So in addition to ensuring that our voting system incorporates a paper trail, we must also ensure that there is no opportunity for elections to be influenced through manipulation of software. As State Senator Liz Krueger said last month, the technology employed by our voting system must be ghack-proof.h Unfortunately, the Brennan Center Report found significant security and reliability vulnerabilities in each of the three most commonly purchased electronic voting machines.

All this makes non-electronic voting, particularly Paper Ballot Optical Scanning (PBOS), seem like the most democratic option. PBOS systems necessarily leave a verifiable paper trail, and the simpler technology they employ provides a number of other reassurances: they cannot be manipulated in the same way that software in electronic voting machines can; they are easier to fix on short notice or in the middle of an election; and they do not necessarily require expensive ongoing maintenance and support from private companies.

Last year, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Miami-Dade County would scrap its electronic voting program in response to hundreds of lost votes that resulted from a coding error. Furthermore, the county Supervisor of Elections announced that a switch to a PBOS system would save more than $13 million over five years.

Accessible voting continues to be a major concern for me, and I am heartened that the needs of disabled voters are getting rightful attention in these discussions. It is critically important that voting machines are simple to use and accessible to every eligible voter. It is my impression that there are PBOS systems that accommodate the needs of all voters, including the disabled and non-English-speakers. Ballot markers, made by companies like AutoMark and Avante, allow physically handicapped voters to program their votes into a device which marks the paper ballot for them. Then they run it through the same optical scanners as other voters, allowing them to cast their ballots privately and independently.

Although New York has been slow to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, it is essential that we invest our resources in systems that will support the democratic process by strengthening verifiable voting and protecting it from malfeasance. I believe that presently, PBOS systems are the most effective tools to do so, and I urge you to give them serious consideration.

Whether the students in my civics class cast their future votes at a ballot box, a touch-screen, or an optical scanning machine, I hope they will believe me when I tell them gEvery vote counts,h and that they can be confident in New York Statefs voting system.

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