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How to be Pro-Active at Voting Machine Demonstrations

Demonstrations of voting machines tend to be dominated by the vendors of the equipment, who are interested in selling their direct recording electronic voting machines (DREs) in which their companies have invested deeply. This is especially true in New York, where the state requires large, expensive full-face ballot machines. Vendors have done a poor job of adequately demonstrating optical scanners and cannot be counted on to give a fair showing of this reliable technology. It is up to citizens to insist that demonstrations of all systems be even-handed, and not biased towards DREs.

Be aware that DREs are much more profitable to vendors than the alternative, paper ballots and optical scan ballot counters. Vendors sometimes claim that scanners cannot be made compatible with the full-face ballot, but this is not true. 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.

Before the demonstration:

  1. Try to find out how many models representing the two systems will be exhibited. Protest if the paper ballot/optical scan system (PBOS) is not to be demonstrated. Try to get at least two different scanners at the demonstration.

    Explanation: Several different vendors have invested heavily in new full-face DREs for NY, which they would prefer to sell our state because of the higher acquisition and maintenance costs. By contrast, the optical scanners are a mature technology that is less profitable to the vendors. Citizens can be unfairly influenced by the number and variety of the electronic voting machines, spending so much time trying the various DREs that the simple, more reliable PB-OS system is eclipsed.
  2. Insist to your election commissioners in advance that vendors give a complete demonstration of the PBOS system.

    Explanation: Vendors rarely if ever properly demonstrate paper ballots and scanners: i.e., with the right ballots for NY, with privacy screens, privacy sleeves, with the ballot marking device for the disabled, with the scanner properly programmed for an election.
  3. Insist that all equipment demonstrated have the accessibility and verification devices required by NY legislation.

    Explanation: Vendors have yet to demonstrate DREs with the required voter verified paper ballots and full accessibility features. But these features are required by NYS law. Challenge the vendors if they are not demonstrating a machine which meets NYS requirements.

At machine demonstrations:

1. Look closely at the way the Paper Ballot plus Optical Scan system is demonstrated. Challenge any failures to meet the required arrangements!

  • Has a ballot been provided that meets NY requirements?
  • Has a privacy booth been provided? Have other arrangements to protect privacy been made? (e.g., privacy sleeves to carry the ballot, screening of the scanner, etc.) NY state legislation requires any necessary arrangements for privacy.
  • Is the ballot-marking device for the disabled conveniently located in proximity to the scanner?
  • Is the scanner properly programmed to give the required feedback about overvotes or undervotes? (If it is not, it may be one that was used previously to count absentee ballots. Without this capability it is not compliant with HAVA.)
  • Ask to see the ballot box. Is it attached to the scanner? Where do the write-in ballots go?

2. Look closely at the DREs

  • Ask yourself whether you really can know how your vote is recorded electronically inside the machine.
  • Has a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB) been installed? Is it easy to read? Is it easy to compare with what you chose on the large screen?
  • Does the voter verification produce a roll of paper? Or slips of paper? How are these kept after being cut?
  • Ask whether there is any proof that the verification print-out corresponds with the electronic record of the vote.
  • Ask for a demonstration of the programming of the machine; that is, how is it set up for each election?
  • Notice how much storage space will be required by this machine. Some machines are extremely large and heavy and will be expensive to store and transport.
  • Consider how it will be moved from the storage space to the polling place. Will volunteer election workers be able to move it?

3. Look closely at both DREs and PBOS systems for these matters:

  • Accessibility to the disabled.
    • Can this machine provide accessibility to those with limited vision? (e.g., capacity to enlarge fonts?)
    • Is it accessible to the blind and visually impaired?
    • What are the arrangements for those with mobility impairments?
    • What is required to make the system accessible to those in wheel chairs? Does this allow independent voting?
  • Ask whether this machine has been submitted for certification in New York. If not, ask why not?

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Paper Ballots for New York

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