Thursday, July 16, 2009

New York's Electronic Voting-Back to the Future

Today I experienced the future of voting in NY.

New York, to the best of my knowledge, is the last state in the union to adopt some version of electronic voting. Up to last year, we were using those old dinosaur lever machines with the curtain - you stood there and had 3 minutes to pull levers for your candidates.

Before that (as my 80 year old plus neighbor tells me) NY had paper ballots.

Guess what. We will have paper ballots again. Sort of.

I went to a demonstration of the new voting system at the Broome County Library today and this is how it works:
First, you have to fill out a paper ballot. You do this at a "corral" accommodating four voters. It is on an approximately 8 1/2 x 14 sheet. There is a square box next to each candidate's name. You have a pen, like a fine magic marker, that you fill in the boxes with. Then, you will need to put this in an envelop (so it remains secret) and wait on line to feed your sheet of paper into a machine.

The machine reads your ballot and if all is OK you hear it drop into a box. It is also scanned and there is also a paper receipt (which wasn't demonstrated). The demonstrator emphasized safeguards so the results wouldn't be hacked.

If you "overvoted" (filled in too many boxes) the ballot is spit back out and I assume you have to get back into the line for the corral.

If you "undervoted" the machine will tell you and you can override and tell it to accept your ballot, or have it spit out to correct.

What happens if you start to fill out a box and change your mind? What happens if you put a stray mark near a box? I had a lot of questions but of course I thought of them after I went back to work (this was on my lunch).

I'm not sure if I'm sold on this. I did find an interesting blog devoted to keeping the lever machines.

I'll love to see how this works in the November elections, which are an off year election. I can almost see the long lines other states have complained about.....

1 comment:

  1. We've had this system in Seminole County in Florida for the last few years (Florida does not have a unified system throughout the state that I know of). It has it's good points and it's bad. Scanning technology has been around for a while and so the reliable of reading the ballot isn't a problem. What I have experienced is that when a ballot is torn (the voting monitor tore it when giving it to me) the ballot will not feed correctly (no real surprise to me but apparently a revelation to the voting monitors) there didn't seem to be a good mechanism for me to just redo the ballot. They should have a log book and a shredder available for bad ballots and a recorded log of what has been shredded and why. The counts of the number of voters should match up with the number of ballots scanned and tallied in the scanner. The scanners are not inexhuastable bins so they need to be emptied, the ballots counted and matched against the tally and then the scanner needs to be reset to accept new ballots (unless they empty, then count and add at infinitum - not a recommended approach). IMHO, I prefer the levers. I don't like the lack of privacy, the potential for bad batch counts and the potential for a bad ballot to eliminate my vote from being counted correctly. That said, it sounds like NYS has at least thought about some of the potential issues and has some procedures in place to address them. I can't say the same about Florida.


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