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Correcting Misunderstandings about Paper Ballot/Optical Scanner (PBOS) Voting Systems

The following fifteen claims and responses have been collected by members of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. The responses have been extensively researched and links to documentation are provided below.

You may choose to browse through the claims or click on the table of contents links to go directly to specific claims.

Click here for this report of claims and corrections in portable document format [PDF] suitable for printing and duplication.

 Contents by Claim 

  1. Optical scanners cannot be certified in NYS
  2. Meaningless to discuss without certification
  3. Choice is about administration - leave to BOEs
  4. Paper ballots will be a large cost to counties
  5. PBOS is unworkable due to ballot storage
  6. PBOS will be too difficult for voters
  7. EAC rules out equipment other than DREs
  8. Voters will find it too difficult to mark paper ballots
  9. NY legislation solves the DRE verification problem
  10. Optical scanners are also computers
  11. PBOS system does not protect ballot privacy
  12. PBOS advocates underestimate systems needed
  13. Advocates of PBOS are motivated by financial interest
  14. Advocates of PBOS are needlessly suspicious of DREs
  15. Certification must conclude before considering alternatives

Claim No. 1:
Optical scanners cannot be certified in New York State because they are unable to handle the full-face ballot required in New York.

Several counties in Connecticut are using full face ballot optical scanners, so full face capable scanners do exist. Other models of precinct based optical scanners require a minor firmware modification to enable them to recognize the larger grid required by a full face ballot. This is not a difficult change and could be quickly and easily implemented by vendors.

In order to sell their Direct Recording Electronic voting machines (DREs), vendors have promised to install a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB). They should apply this same willingness to meet New York State requirements with their optical scan equipment, which they have exhibited around the state.

It is not difficult to make a scanner recognize a full face ballot. Samples are available of an optical scan full face ballot that was used in the 2004 presidential election in Brooklyn, NY for the central count scanners used for absentee ballots.

Claim No. 2 :
It is meaningless to discuss the Paper Ballot plus Optical Scanning (PBOS) voting system at this time, since no scanners have been submitted for certification in New York State.

As of early September 2005 NO voting equipment has been submitted for certification in New York under the June 2005 legislation. Some of the DREs under consideration are not yet equipped with Voter Verified Paper Ballots (VVPB), a required feature under New York’s Election Reform and Modernization Act.

Claim No. 3:
The choice of a voting system is primarily about the administration of elections; therefore, it is a matter for Boards of Elections to resolve on the basis of their managerial concerns.

The primary values that should inform the choice of a voting system are accuracy, reliability, transparency, verifiability, and security. Only if these values are guaranteed by the system will voters have confidence in our democracy. The PBOS system has been proven superior with regard to these primary values.

Claim No. 4:
Paper ballots will be a large, recurring annual cost to counties.

While election commissioners in New York have said the cost of one ballot might be as much as $1.25, a survey of states using PBOS reveals that straightforward black and white ballots, printed digitally, will cost less than 30 cents per ballot. In some states the price is as low as 10 cents.

NY’s bargaining power should be able to move the price more in this direction. When assessing such costs, one should keep in mind that counties like Miami-Dade Florida have encountered maintenance costs for DREs far exceeding those predicted.

Hidden costs with DREs include higher maintenance and replacement expenses as well as in the need for larger climate-controlled and secure storage space. The DRE system also must include the cost of paper ballots for absentee, military and provisionary voting and the paper and ink supplies for the voter-verification panels.

Claim No. 5:
The PBOS system is unworkable because of the required 22 month storage of ballots after an election.

The ATM-type slips or rolls of paper from the voter verification panels of the DREs also will require storage for 22 months. This may require special conditions so that photo-sensitive paper does not deteriorate.

Any additional space required to store the larger and more readable PBOS ballots will be minimal compared to the greater storage space requirements for the DREs.

Claim No. 6:
The Paper Ballot plus Optical Scan system will seem unfamiliar and difficult to voters.

The 2002 Caltech/MIT study of "Residual Votes Attributable to Technology" paid attention to years when there were switches in voting technology and concluded: "Levers and paper and scanned ballots appear to offer similar rates of reliability" and "appear to perform noticeably better than . . . Electronic devices. Paper might even be an improvement over lever machines."

Surely more New Yorkers are familiar with pen and paper than with computers like the DREs. Most people have experience filling in the bubbles on lottery tickets or standardized tests. Many state employees have experience with optical scanners used for other government functions.

In addition, the surface resemblance of the full-face DREs to the lever machines is superficial. DRES are computers and not at all like the lever machines in their underlying technology.

Claim No. 7:
The Election Assistance Commission (July 20, 2005) interpreted requirements for federal elections so as to rule out the possibility that equipment other than DREs can meet accessibility requirements for the disabled.

The EAC document (EAC advisory 05-004) specifically states otherwise, saying: "This advisory should not be read to preclude the innovation and use of accessible voting systems other than DREs."

It also says: "Many jurisdictions use a paper ballot voting system that requires the voter to submit his or her own ballot after casting for purposes of ballot counting…such jurisdictions must to the extent reasonably and technologically possible afford a disabled voter the same ability to submit his or her own ballot, in a private and independent manner, as is afforded a non-disabled voter."

Claim No. 8:
Many people, especially the elderly, will find it difficult to mark the paper ballots.

Modern scanners can accurately read marks that are not perfect. In addition, any who feel insecure hand-marking a ballot may choose to use the ballot-marking device located in each polling place. This will allow the use of keys, ear phones, enlarged fonts, as well as various languages to set up and verify a ballot before pressing the “prepare ballot” button to print one’s choices on the ballot.

Claim No. 9:
New York’s recent legislation solves the problems about security and verifiability which motivated the various verified voting movements.

First, while the legislation calls for a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB), on the DREs this record still will not guarantee that the vote is recorded as the voter intended; a machine can be programmed to record one thing and print another.

Second, the legislation also recognizes another problem with electronic voting when it requires vendors to place in escrow with the state the “source code” that controls the machine’s basic functions. This intends to compensate for the fact that these codes are not made public; but there is no guarantee that the code in escrow is the same as that installed in a particular machine.

Claim No. 10:
Optical scanners are also computers so have the same problems of the lack of transparency and dependence on proprietary source codes as DREs.

Optical scanners are computers, but much simpler than DREs. Scanners only count votes. The voter casts his/her vote by marking the ballot in the privacy booth and then submitting the ballot to the scanner, which counts and stores the ballot for required audits and any necessary recounts.

The programming of the scanners can be transparently tested by running a test deck of ballots that have been publicly hand-counted as many times as are necessary to convince the testers that the scanner is correctly set up.

Finally, with optical scan systems the original paper ballot, marked by the voter, is the official record of the vote. These ballots are available for manual recounts whenever law or circumstance requires it.

Claim No. 11:
The PBOS system threatens the privacy of one’s vote because the ballot is exposed to view.

New York’s legislation requires that privacy be protected in the polling place through whatever arrangements necessary. Privacy booths and privacy sleeves (which cover the ballot while being carried to and placed in the scanner), screens around scanners, or use of separate alcoves are procedures that work well in polling places in other states.

The many states already using PBOS have a wealth of experience with successful procedures to guarantee ballot secrecy.

Claim No. 12:
Advocates of PBOS seriously underestimate the number of scanners needed, which should replace lever machines at a one-for-one ratio.

More than one-third of the polling places in the U.S. use the PBOS system and only the largest polling places require more than one scanner. In New York State one optical scanner can comfortably replace four or five lever machines in the same polling place.

Claim No. 13:
Advocates of PBOS (e.g., New Yorkers for Verified Voting) are motivated by vested financial interests in certain voting machine companies.

NYVV has absolutely NO financial or other vested interest in any voting equipment manufacturer, vendor, or their representatives. Our officers and Board of Directors own no stock, receive no salary or commissions, and accept no contributions, gifts, trips, or favors from any voting machine vendor (or the lobbying firms they have hired), regardless of what type of equipment they manufacture or promote.

Our interest in this issue has solely to do with our concern for transparent, accurate, and verifiable elections. As citizens of New York State, we share the concerns about DREs with many computer professionals and others around the United States. We believe that optical scanners are a better choice because they are a more reliable, accurate, auditable and cost effective voting system. Our involvement in this advocacy work comes from our belief that in a democracy, citizens must speak up and take an active role.

In contrast, it is rarely acknowledged that the voting machine vendors have a clear vested financial interest in the voting equipment decision. No one disputes that for any company, a larger profit is preferable to a smaller one. DREs will make more money for vendors in both the short and long term than optical scanners. But yet, this profit motive seems to be discounted when vendors advocate in favor of DREs.

Claim No. 14:
Advocates of PBOS are unnecessarily suspicious of the DREs designed for New York's full-face ballot, since these machines have been used without problems in some NY counties in recent elections.

The Sequoia DREs used in a few polling places in Saratoga County NY do not have the voter verified paper ballot (VVPB) now required by NYS election law. The VVPB equipped machines which, at the time of this writing, have yet to be submitted for certification, must have this feature and therefore are not the same machines as the ones currently being used.

Without verification and audits, one cannot know if there were any problems with DREs like the ones used in Saratoga County. Many problems with DREs that lack verification are detected only when large discrepancies occur.

PBOS systems have been in use in almost one-third of USA polling places with only isolated reports of problems easily corrected with more experience in managing the system.

Claim No. 15:
Nothing is to be gained by discussions and hearings around New York at this time, since the certification process must conclude before we can meaningfully consider the alternatives.

New York’s legislation authorizes choice between two very different voting systems. In reality, the decision making process IS underway now, prior to certification of any particular machine.
This is as it should be. Analysis and discussion must precede decision. Full disclosure of the pros and cons of each system and public discussion of the issues concerning different voting technologies is extremely important and relevant, and must take place now.

Documentation of the claims made above may be found in the reports and analyses available here:


Cost Analysis and Reports

Acquisition Cost Comparison of DRE vs. Optical Scan in New York

Paper Ballot Printing Costs

Comparing Annual Costs of DREs and Optical Scanners

Cost comparisons of PB/OS systems and DREs

Surveys and Critiques

NYVV Survey of States Using Optical Scanners

CalTech assessment of the reliability of different voting systems

Correcting Sequoia's Arguments against Optical Scanners

NYS Election Commissioner's Review of Voting Machines

NYVV Critique of ECA Voting Systems Report

Reports on MiamiDadeCounty

Miami Dade County Recommends Abandoning DREs for Optical Scan

Miami Dade Supervisor of Elections Report

Documented Problems of DRE systems

Summary of New Mexico 2004 Phantom Votes

Report on New Mexico 2004 Phantom Votes

Recent Problems in Electronic Elections

Problems with Sequoia Voting Equipment

Problems with ES&S Voting Equipment

Contact us if you'd like help preparing and presenting information to your legislators, election officials, town and county boards and legislative committees.

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