April 24, 2006
Testimony of Evelyn Jones Rich on Resolutions #131 and #228 Regarding New York City Voting MachinesNY City Council Government Operations Committee

Good afternoon, Chairman Felder, and members of the Government Operations Committee.  I am Evelyn Jones Rich, Chair, City Issues Committee, New York City Americans for Democratic Action (ADA).  I am pleased to associate NYC ADA with the views of our colleagues from New Yorkers for Verified Voting in urging the Committee Members to sponsor, report out of Committee and adopt Resolution 131 and Resolution 228.  Thanks to Councilman Peter Valone Jr. from my old stomping ground in Astoria who is an early sponsor of this legislation.

First, about NYC and National ADA.  New York City ADA is the local affiliate of Americans for Democratic Action, an independent, liberal, political organization, founded in 1947 and dedicated to promoting individual liberty and economic justice through education and political action.  Our past members include Eleanor Roosevelt and Hubert Humphrey.  Our current members include Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Scott Stringer, and City Council Persons, Gale Brewer and G. Oliver Koppel.

Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) after the 2000 Presidential election disaster and authorized $3.8 billion to help states upgrade voter equipment and establish state-wide voter registration data bases.

HAVA formed the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to help states spend the federal dollars on voting systems and create a process to certify voting equipment.

Delays up and down the line mean that New York State is last in voting reform.  Voting machine manufacturers are promoting Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines – particularly “touch screen” models – and have launched a multi-million marketing campaign to convince state election officials to certify them.

Touch screen voting machines rely on computers to count votes but there is no back-up copy in case of a crash and no way to detect tampering.  There is no opportunity to observe the counting of the votes.  Believe it or not, in the U.S. today, a majority of the electorate casts ballots on computers that run software that is hidden from vierw and lacks any independent way of verification.

NYC ADA passed a resolution in February 2006 supporting Precinct Based Optical Scanning (PBOS) which insures that the voter’s intent is accurately recorded on the legal ballot of record. 

Specifically, we support the use of paper ballots hand-marked by voters. We favor the use of ballot-marking devices by voters with disabilities and voters  in the state’s minority language  communities.  These three options represent, in our view, the only way, at this time, to provide both accessibility and transparency in voting, consistent with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  PBOS voting systems have been used for 20 years – they are time-tested, reliable, cost less and retain local public bipartisan control of elections. ADA forwarded  a copy of that resolution to all members of this committee, to District Leaders, and members of Board of Elections at the local and state level. 

We could dwell at length on reasons why we oppose Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Machines.  Those who favor the more costly DRE’s will do that!

We support PBOS for three basic reasons. 

First, paper ballots do not rely on blind faith (as does DRE) but insure that there is a physical vote and, therefore, the ability to audit, to count and recount with both accuracy and honesty.
From North Carolina to Ohio to Texas, votes have been lost or miscounted.  The average citizen may have blind faith in computers.  We do not!

Secondly, paper ballots enable the voter to verify that his/her vote is tabulated correctly.
  The paper ballot, therefore, insures the integrity of our democratic system and closes the door to the possibility of fraud.  Voter participation is an important bulwark of our democracy. Yet, in the 2004 Presidential Election only 60% of eligible voters turned out.  Today, the US ranks 139th out of 163 democracies in the rate of voter participation.  If citizens don’t think that their vote counts, they won’t vote!  Paper ballots protect against fraud and, thus, encourage voter participation.

Finally, those most alarmed with the use of computers in voting are computer experts!
  For example, Avi Rubin, Director of Computer Security Systems at Johns Hopkins University is quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying that “it is much easier to hide malicious software than to detect it.” He also believes that it’s impossible to secure an accurate vote count without a paper ballot .  He has written extensively on the reasons why so-called “electronic paper trails” are meaningless.

Vendors including Liberty, Avante, and Sequoia Pacific should not be permitted to dictate and then vet the process which undergirds our system of government and, as our representatives, you ought not permit them to do so!

Resolution #131 urges the adoption of paper ballots and precinct-based optical scanners and accessible ballot-marking machines for voters with disabilities and minority languages.   

Resolution #228 urges the NYC Board of Elections to hold public hearings before selecting new voting machines.  It also urges public testing to verify that the machines work before selecting them.

Similar legislation (H.R. 550 – the gold standard for federal paper record bills) is pending at the national level
It’s time for all of you to step up to the plate.  Support PBOS.  Do it once!   Do it right.  Do it now!  Get it right the first time!

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