New York’s Bad Voting Machines


By Julie Penny

Tens of millions have been spent — a hundred million — to go on a pig in a poke.

This summer, with a gun held to its head by the Feds, New York State was forced into buying new voting machines. Counties selected their choice from a short-list provided by the state. They are not ready for prime time. In fact, they are the usual junk that vendors have been passing off on the rest of the country for all these years.

Upon delivery, Nassau found a high failure rate amongst them, as did many other counties throughout New York State. Suffolk machines fared better, so I was told by Anita Katz, one of the two Commissioners at Suffolk’s Board of Elections. You would think that since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed in 2002 that by now these companies would have improved their wares, or, at least, seek to impress its latest customer—New York—with a decent, even superior product. But, no!

Luckily, we’ll be voting on the levers for ’08, but, along with them, each polling place will be sporting one of the new voting systems for use by disabled voters, or, by anyone who so wishes to do so. Ralph DiSpigna, a poll worker for Noyac, warns: “Don’t even bother with them, they take 20 minutes to use—Go with the levers.”  As our counterparts across the nation have been experiencing for years: be prepared, in the future, to wait in long lines for hours on end to vote on error-prone machines that lack security, and take too much time to vote on. That’s if poll workers can even get them to turn on. (Another frequent cause of delay.)

An article in “Scientific American,” that came out in February stated: “Whereas certain technology—such as pacemakers and other medical devices—are heavily regulated and must adhere to strict design and construction standards, voting machines are still mostly unregulated. ‘There’s no validation of how the software for these systems is designed and built…surprising given the importance of voting machines to our national infrastructure.’” 

Additionally, Long Island’s new Sequoia-Dominion Voting systems that comes with a ballot marking device (BMD) where you mark your choices and feed your ballot into an optical scanner also comes additionally equipped with a “convenient slotted hole that allows anyone to stuff ballots directly into the locked ballot box.” I watched a video by an activist attorney on how easily it was done. She was able to stuff several ballots at a time directly into the locked ballot box without having to pass the ballots through the scanner first. This ballot stuffing feature would foil any manual audits because a discrepancy would then exist between the paper ballot count and the tally on the optical scanner’s memory card. If the machine says 300 people voted and poll workers find—when thy open the locked box at the end of the night, 315 ballots—How will they know which are the “real” ballots?  While vendors have lessened the slotted gap, or sealed it, it is unclear at this time just how many of the new machines, in actuality, have had this problem rectified. NYS election workers still have qualms.

These new machines also come equipped with USB ports that illegally facilitate network, internet and wireless access. New York law calls for “no connectivity.”

Although hundreds of discrepancies with these machines have already been documented which would prevent their full certification for counting the 2009 votes, and, although the lab approved to certify these voting systems is being investigated for shoddy methodology and collusion with vendors, the Feds want New York to lower its own certification standards to accommodate these substandard, security-compromised voting systems. New York better fight the Feds tooth and nail.

It’s only recently that the media has reported on the flaws of our electronic voting machines, noting that dozens of states have dumped their touchscreen systems and are embroiled in lawsuits against vendors. Yes, CBS News, CNN, the Associated Press, the NY Times have finally come out against electronic voting. But, it’s too little, too late. For years election integrity activists have been documenting, collecting, cataloging, analyzing, data and trying to get elected officials and the mainstream media to do their job of investigating the mind-numbing voting disasters and anomalies that have riddled every election and primary since 2000. This August The Washington Post reported that the Premier (formerly “Diebold”) system contained “a critical programming error that can cause votes to be dropped while being electronically transferred from memory cards to a central tallying point.” This problem has been part of the software for the last 10 years! The system is used in 34 states. The flaw exists in both Premier’s touch screens and optical scanners. But problems like these are endemic to all other brands of these systems as well.

The whole structure of elections in the U.S. has changed. Once reliant on local representatives accountable to the public, we have now become completely dependent on large corporations which are not accountable to the public. “Most local officials charged with running elections are now unable to administer elections without the equipment, services, and trade-secret software of a small number of corporations” like ES&S, Premier (Diebod), Hart Intervic, Sequoia. They run the show and we’re hostage. Since HAVA was instituted in 2002, they’ve gouged the taxpayer for billions. That’s one part of the equation. The other part is voter disenfranchisement that has been ramped up to unprecedented proportions for the 2008 election. The same vendors who control voting machines have also been given lucrative contracts to generate electronic poll books. It’s created an opportunity for sizeable voter disenfranchisement. I reported on this problem in this column two years ago referring to an in-depth study by NYU’s School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. Eligible voters, by and large, Democrats, some of whom had have lived in the same place and voted continuously at the same precinct for years are being thrown off the voting rolls because of typographical errors made by clerks. And now, because they lack new ID requirements. This spring, 12 elderly nuns in Indiana were turned away from their polling place across the street from their convent because they didn’t have federal or state ID with a photograph, like a driver’s license. (None of the nuns drove.) I have elderly relatives who fall into this category. The poor, people of color, and Latinos, who tend to be Democrats are particularly targeted.  The latest targets of disenfranchisement are those whose home have been “foreclosed” upon. 

A few years ago, whistleblowers, at great personal risk, started coming forward. Brave folks that were either ignored, maligned, or both. The mainstream media ignored them, but concerned citizens and the netroots followed up on their claims in great detail. By 2006 so many cracks had appeared in our ship of liberty that even the reluctant media started noticing it was splintering apart—A turning point moment, I think, was when the team from Princeton University proved how easy it was to hack these systems and change results without any detection.

The continuing voting train wrecks that appear with every primary and election as reported upon by voters, election officials and local newspapers around the U.S., and, with a new Secretary of State in California who ordered a top to bottom review of electronic voting machines and found them unworthy of certification, all goes to verify what we’ve been saying for years — along with the lawsuits and criminal prosecutions.

Over the last two-and-a-half years the body of evidence has grown to such proportions that the media could no longer ignore the problem. The voting hazards we face are best epitomized in the documentaries—“Hacking Democracy,” (nominated for an Emmy in 2007); “Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections,” and Dan Rather’s “The Trouble with Touchscreens.” They are damning.

The latest whistleblower to step forward is Stephen Spoonamore—one of our nation’s top cyber experts. He is dead set against electronic voting, asserting it’s a “national security” issue. (Interviews with Spoonamore can be seen on “YouTube.”) Among his clients are credit card companies like MasterCard and American Express. He’s consulted for the FBI, Pentagon and other government agencies on electronic data security and commerce.

In July, a motion was filed by two Ohio attorneys to have a “stay” lifted on a lawsuit having to do with election fraud in Ohio during the 2004 presidential election. Mr. Spoonamore has volunteered to be one of their expert witnesses. The judge granted the lawsuit proceed and ordered depositions be taken. However, a subpoena to the information technology person most knowledgeable in the Ohio matter, Michael Connell, is now stonewalling and fighting the subpoena. Sound familiar?