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July 6th, 2004

Political Machines

by Deborah Glick

Florida’s 2000 election fiasco that denied so many Americans their constitutionally-guaranteed right to vote, exemplified the importance of having a sound electoral system. There is a real danger that such a situation could recur during this year’s presidential election. While the federal government has passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to reform states’ electoral processes, it will not be fully implemented in the majority of states, including New York, prior to this year’s presidential election. Besides, HAVA has a number of problems which could further weaken our electoral system unless states sensibly implement it. New York’s choices in implementing HAVA will determine whether our voting system is strengthened or weakened.

HAVA will require first-time voters who have registered by mail to present identification in order to cast a ballot. It relies predominantly on state issued identification, with a driver’s license being the most common. In New York City, this regulation will have a disproportionately negative impact on us since our comprehensive public transportation system makes it more likely that citizens won’t have a driver’s license or other DMV-issued identification. We must ensure that New York’s implementation of this rule does not discourage young, poor, elderly or immigrant voters who may be less likely to have state-issued identification from exercising their right to vote. It is important to note that these new identification requirements won’t affect voters like me who have been registered at the same address for years. They are going to affect the hundred of voters who register for the first time. In many ways, these new voters are already the most vulnerable since they are the most likely to be turned away at the polls or be confused about where to vote. Since HAVA gives states the power to choose acceptable forms of identification, New York State must create a list of acceptable documentation that is comprehensive, inclusive and easily attained. I presented a list of such items to the State Board of Elections last year such as public housing identification cards, pay stubs, water, heat or electric bills, school identification cards and leases. Currently, the State Assembly and Senate are engaged in a conference committee to iron out this and other details.

Secondly, as part of the State’s compliance with HAVA, New York State’s 62 counties are in the process of purchasing new voting equipment. The existing lever technology, which in most counties will be used this November, will be barred from use as of January 1, 2006. While new technologies may hold some promise, we must be vigilant in choosing machines that are well tested prior to use. In the localities that have already used electronic voting systems, voters and election officials have encountered significant problems with their operation and voters rights groups have encountered steep resistance from manufacturers in their attempts to address obvious glitches. Manufacturers have deemed their software a trade secret and not allowed independent technology experts or their customers to see the software code and inspect it for bugs.

I am particularly wary of electronic voting systems considering many manufacturers have a history of conflict of interest in their interaction with elected officials and their connection to certain campaigns. Elections Systems and Software, which is largely owned by Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, is used in most Nebraska counties. In Ohio, where most counties use Diebold, Inc. software, the CEO of Diebold Inc., Walden O’Dell, wrote that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” This partisan zeal, combined with the fact that many of these systems will make manual recounts impossible, may lead to a lack of faith in our electoral system.

Most electronic voting systems resemble ATM machines with one crucial difference. While ATM machines print out an unalterable physical receipt that can be checked to ensure that no error has been made and to correct those that do occur, most electronic voting systems give no physical record of a cast vote. Therefore, it is impossible for a voter to verify that their vote has been correctly cast. If a programming error or malfeasance causes a problem with many votes, the outcome of an election could potentially be altered either because voters never learn of the errors, or because election officials made aware of problems have no way to review an independent record of votes. Given the current state of our nation, it is crucial that people’s excitement in participating in the electoral process not be quashed by distrust and dissatisfaction with our voting system. As the 2000 election so painfully demonstrated, every vote does indeed count.

Deborah Glick

For more info on the voter machine problem check the website of?Ǭ MoveOn.org-Editor’s Note

Filed Under: Articles | New York | Politics

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