The Coalition

Issues

ELECTION REFORM

The members of the Election Reform Working Group work to ensure that all persons are given the opportunity to vote, and that all votes are counted. Some of our Members served as election inspectors during the 2004 election, and bring their expertise to the group.

The Group is also reviewing issues related to the new voting machines that were supposed to have been implemented in New York starting in 2006 as required by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), but have been pushed back to 2007 and perhaps beyond. No matter which system is eventually employed, the Election Reform Working Group demands that such system must leave a paper trail for each vote.

UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 22, 2007:

New York Might Not Use New Machines Until 2009

As reported by The New York Daily News, New York probably will not be able to implement the use of new machines until 2008 at the earliest, and more than likely not until 2009. The organization hired by New York State's Board of Election to test the new machines, Ciber, Inc., has been decertified by the Federal Election Commission's Election Assistance Commission. As reported by the Daily News, this will set back the planned use of new voting machines in New York until next year, and possibly beyond:

But New York State's compliance efforts continue to be plagued by delay after delay. The latest hitch is that testing of a new voting system seeking state certification has come to a standstill because a contractor hired to conduct the tests failed to pass muster with federal authorities.

A showdown with the contractor, Ciber Inc., could come as early as Tuesday in Albany at a meeting of the state Board of Elections.

If Ciber's contract is canceled, the state's certification process would face even more delays, leaving the state's counties and New York City up in the air about what machines they could buy.

Furher telling was this statement from the Democratic State Elections Commissioner:

The 2008 elections include a presidential primary in March, a September primary for legislative and congressional offices, a November general election for the same offices, and the presidential election.

Douglas Kellner, the Democratic co-chairman of the state Board of Elections, testified that having new voting machines in use for the March 2008 presidential primary also is doubtful.

UPDATE AS OF DECEMBER 28, 2006:

NY Counties Fighting in Court to Delay Replacing Voting Machines

As reported by Newsday, Nassau County is trying to join a federal lawsuit commenced by Suffolk County to delay the implementation of new voting machines in New York. As reported by Newsday:

An insurrection that appears to be building from the counties could unravel plans to replace the state's antiquated lever voting machines in time for the primary elections next September.

Nassau County's legislature and elections board asked a federal judge yesterday to allow them to participate in a lawsuit against New York State that aims to extend into 2009 the deadline for purchasing new machines.

In October, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy sued in state Supreme Court to overturn an interpretation of state law that calls for all lever voting machines to be scrapped because people in wheelchairs cannot reach the top levers and the blind cannot read the ballot. Levy would rather keep the lever equipment but purchase other machines for the disabled.

Officials in both counties are encouraging their counterparts across the state to join them in court.

"I think this really has a chance of gaining legs," said William T. Biamonte, Nassau's Democratic elections commissioner. "This effort by Nassau would give all counties a voice in the process, if they sign on."

Previously the judge in the case prohibited other counties from joining the suit, but if he allows Nassau County to join many other counties will probably follow suit. Such an action could result in the further delaying of the implementation of the HAVA voting machine requirements; thereby meaning that we could possibly be using the old lever machines through the 2008 presidential election.

UPDATE AS OF DECEMBER 19, 2006:

NYS to Miss HAVA Deadline Again

The Albany Times Union is reporting that New York will miss a court-agreed upon deadline to implement new voting machines under the Help America Vote Act (”HAVA”). Specifically, the article noted:

“We’re going to have to sit down with the Department of Justice,” said board spokesman Lee Daghlian. The federal agency in March sued the state for being the slowest in the nation to approve and buy new voting machines under the Help America Vote Act.

Justice officials earlier agreed to hold off further prosecution when state officials said the new machines could be ready by September 2007.

But to do that, machines would have to be tested and certified for use by February.

Board of Elections officials, at a meeting of county election commissioners from across the state, said they probably wouldn’t make the February deadline because of the slow pace of testing. As a result, the machines won’t be in place by September, when local primaries take place.

“We’re finding out it takes a lot longer to do than anybody thought,” Daghlian said of the testing and certification process.

If New York does not meet its self-imposed, and court-agreed deadline, it could lose millions of dollars in federal funding to be used to replace existing machines. If that happens, the machines still must be purchased, and that cost would most likely be passed down to the counties.

There is some benefit to the delay. That is, hopefully, only the safest voting systems will be approved, thereby avoiding the voting controversies that have plagued other states. However, it is a sad commentary that New York State already was last in the nation for purchasing new machines, and now can’t even meet its own agreed-upon deadline. We better end up with the most safest fool-proof system, especially if the counties end up paying for these machines.

UPDATE AS OF SEPTEMBER 26, 2006:

States Backing Away from Electronic Voting Machines & NY Sets new timeline for approving and testing new voting machines

The Post-Journal of Jamestown reported this week that New York's Board of Elections announced a new timeline for selecting new voting machines machines. According to the article:

Testing should be complete by Dec. 4 and the state Board of Elections could make a selection by Dec. 21.

Norman P. Green, Chautauqua County Democratic Party election commissioner, learned at a meeting in Albany on Friday that no manufacturer had fully submitted all required items for certification by Friday. The final day for manufacturers to get all required equipment and documents in to be part of the first round of certified voting equipment is Friday, Sept. 29.

‘‘I was shocked to hear that not one single manufacturer has its total act together,’’ said Green, who also represented Terry Niebel, Republican Party election commissioner, at the meeting. ‘‘Although it appears that Liberty Voting Systems, which will be assembled in Ellington by Dale Marshall’s Voting Machine Service Center, is the closest to having completed the initial requirements to allow for future certification of the Liberty Voting System.’’

Niebel and Green will vote on the new voting machine choice for Chautauqua County. The election commissioners have committed themselves to an open process a chance for county residents and the county legislature to have a say in the decision. However, they will only choose from voting machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems or Liberty Election Systems. Sequoia has its sales and service office in Jamestown and Liberty machines will be assembled in Ellington.

Also this week, the New York Times reported that many states that have implemented electronic voting systems are backing away from those machines. As reported by the Times:

Less than two months before voters head to the polls, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Maryland this week became the most recent official to raise concerns publicly. Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said he lacked confidence in the state’s new $106 million electronic voting system and suggested a return to paper ballots.

Dozens of states have adopted electronic voting technology to comply with federal legislation in 2002 intended to phase out old-fashioned lever and punch-card machines after the “hanging chads” confusion of the 2000 presidential election.

But some election officials and voting experts say they fear that the new technology may have only swapped old problems for newer, more complicated ones. Their concerns became more urgent after widespread problems with the new technology were reported this year in primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and elsewhere.

This year, about one-third of all precincts nationwide are using the electronic voting technology for the first time, raising the chance of problems at the polls as workers struggle to adjust to the new system.

“I think there is good reason for concern headed into the midterm elections,” said Richard F. Celeste, a Democrat and former Ohio governor who was co-chairman of a study of new machines for the National Research Council with Richard L. Thornburgh, a Republican and former governor of Pennsylvania.

UPDATE AS OF JUNE 28, 2006:

NYU’s Brennan Center Finds E-Voting Vunerabilities

In what must be the most comprehensive examination and report ever issued on the subject (162 pages with a 32 page Executive Summary!), On June 27th, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice issued a Report on the vunerabilities of the 3 major electronic voting systems used in this country. The Brennan Center noted that:

all three of the nation’s most commonly purchased electronic voting systems are vulnerable to software attacks that could threaten the integrity of a state or national election.

"As electronic voting machines become the norm on Election Day, voters are more and more concerned that these machines are susceptible to fraud,” said Michael Waldman, the Brennan Center’s Executive Director. “In fact, we’ve learned a lot from our study. These machines are vulnerable to attack. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we know how to reduce the risks and the solutions are within reach.”

The report details how just one person with knowledge of the software and some basic computer programming expertise could change an election’s results. In fact, the Brennan Center conducted a mock gubenatorial election for the state of “Pennasota” between Thomas Jefferson and Johnny Adams and showed how the election’s results could be subverted by a hacker on each machine.

Not surprising, today representatives of the electronic voting machine manufacturers are spinning the results and trying to show how the tests were rigged. But after all recent reports on the subject matter, including prior tests that showed that electronic machines could be hacked and results altered, the report’s results are to be expected.

In addition to reporting on the failures of the systems, the report issues recommendations on how the systems could be made safer, including:

  • Having a Voter Verified Paper Trail (required in NY).
  • Conduct Parallel Testing of Non-Paper Trail Machines.
  • Banning Wireless Components on All Machines.
If you don’t feel like reading the full report, check out the Executive Summary.

UPDATE AS OF MAY 17, 2006:

Deal Reportedly Reached on Voting Machines

The Daily Star of Oneonta is reporting that New York State’s Board of Elections and Federal officials are close to reaching a deal to use the older lever machines for this year’s primary and general elections. As reported by The Daily Star:

New York state and federal officials are close to agreeing on a plan that will keep the state’s lever-voting machines in service for one more election, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections said Tuesday morning.

A meeting between officials from the federal Department of Justice and the state BOE was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Robert Brehm said. The parties were expected to refine the details of an agreement reached last month that postpones replacing most of the state’s voting machines until 2007.

Called “Plan B,” the agreement calls for each county to install at least one ballot-marking device in time for the September 2006 primary. These devices are intended to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote this year, although there is debate over the machines’ effectiveness. Next year, counties will be asked to select voting machines to replace the lever machines, which do not comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.

If this deal reaches fruition it will not solve many of the election issues facing New York, but will give the state one more year to implement the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, and most importantly, ensure that Federal funds will still be available for the purchase of new machines in 2007.

UPDATE AS OF MAY 5, 2006:

State Issues Voting Standards and to Hold Election Machine Test

The New York State Board of Elections has finally issued its final standards for new voting machines. The standards can be viewed HERE.

Also, the State Board of Elections will begin testing of several voting systems which have been submitted as ballot marking devices - commonly referred to as Interim Plan B. Once authorized by the State Board, these systems can be acquired and used by county boards of elections in 2006, to meet Help America Vote Act requirements for the implementation of voting systems which are accessible to voters with disabilities.

The authorization testing will take place at the Club House at Western Turnpike Golf Course, which is located at 2350 Western Turnpike, Guilderland. This location provides sufficient space for the testing of equipment and also allows for the public to view testing activities. Testing will begin daily at 9:30 am on the following days: May 8th - May 9th and May 10th if needed (Avante IVR and SPR Vote Trakker models); May 11th - May 12th (IVS Inspire); and May 11th - May 12th (Populex and Digital Paper Ballot Voting System).

UPDATE AS OF MARCH 24, 2006:

State Ordered to Produce HAVA Plan

As reported by the Associated Press and Newsday:

A federal judge on Thursday ordered New York to come up with a plan by April 10 to comply with provisions of the Help America Vote Act requiring new voting machines the disabled can use this fall.

New York, which has lagged behind all other states in complying with the act adopted in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election, was sued March 1 by the U.S. Justice Department. It was the first such suit filed by the federal government against a state over non-HAVA compliance.

Thursday's order, from U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe, also requires the state show him a plan to ensure a centralized, statewide voter registration system.

Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said the plan to be presented to the judge will likely be an updated version of one the board had been working on with Justice Department officials when the lawsuit was filed.

The judge refused to allow several interest groups, including the state League of Women Voters, to intervene in the case. They are worried the state will be forced to move too quickly and be stuck with new voting machines that aren't satisfactory over the long term.
To read the entire story please click the link above.

UPDATE AS OF March 1, 2006:

New York State Being Sued By Federal Government For Failing to Implement HAVA

Well it was bound to happen - New York State has reached a new low. This is one of those “first in the nation” type monikers nobody wants.

New York has become the first state to be sued by the federal government for failing to implement the requirements of the Help America Vote Act in the stated timeline. While some might believe this is a minor issue, it can have major ramifications on not only the state, but the counties as well. The state could lose ALL of its federal funding for new voting machines, including the repayment of the $49 million it has already received. That would mean that the state, and in all likelihood the counties, would be required to absorb the costs associated purchasing the new voting machines, machines mandated by HAVA.

As reported by the New York Times:

ALBANY, March 1 — New York State, which will not make the deadline for replacing all its aging voting machines by next fall’s elections, was sued Wednesday by the federal Justice Department, making it the first state to be sued for failing to meet new voting guidelines imposed by Congress in 2002.

The new federal guidelines were designed to prevent the kind of electoral chaos that marred the 2000 presidential election in Florida and to make voting easier for disabled voters. But New York State’s efforts to modernize its election system have fallen behind the rest of the nation, delayed by government gridlock and partisanship.

New York was supposed to create a statewide database of registered voters by Jan. 1, but has not even come close to doing so, the lawsuit contends. And while New York has accepted more than $49 million in federal aid that is earmarked for the state to replace its old lever voting machines by this fall’s elections, the state yet to come up with standards telling localities what kinds of new g machines will be acceptable. So it is impossible for most counties to buy new machines and train poll workers in time.

The state — which has received more than $221 million in federal funds to overhaul its voting system — could stand to lose some or all of the $49 million it received for new machines, according to the lawsuit, which was filed here Wednesday in United States District Court for the Northern District.

UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 22, 2006:

Western New York Coalition for Progress Issues Statement to the Erie County Legislature on the Implementation of the Help America Vote Act

On February 22, 2006, before a public hearing called by the Erie County Legislature on issues related to the implementation of the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”) in Erie County, the Western New York Coalition for Progress (“Coalition”) called on the legislature to exercise fiscal discipline is setting the rate of pay for election inspectors employed by the county, while still ensuring that other HAVA related costs are paid for as required by law.

Christa Vidaver, vice president of the Coalition, read portions of the statement into the official record of the hearing and noted, “[i]t is unfortunate that the implementation of HAVA in New York coincides with Erie County’s fiscal problems, but that is no reason for the county to shirk its responsibilities under federal and state law. Unfortunately, past experience gives Erie County’s residents a reason to question the viability of our county’s budgets and finances, but at no time should our citizens question whether our elections are not only secure, but are being held in accordance with the law. As such, the WNY Coalition for Progress calls on Erie County’s leadership to pay for and provide safe and secure elections, but at the same time ensure Erie County’s future through sound fiscal discipline.”

The statement further noted that, under HAVA and New York law, “[t]he Erie County Board of Elections has been charged with assuming responsibilities that once were the purview of the municipalities. This includes, but is not limited to, assuming the ownership, care, custody and control of all voting machines used in Erie County, as well as paying a fair, yet fiscally responsible, wage to election inspectors. The Coalition calls on the Erie County Legislature to fully fund all costs associated with the storage and care of all current machines for the remainder of 2006.”

Additionally, the Coalition called on “the Erie County legislature to set the rate of pay for all election inspectors at a rate that takes into consideration our current fiscal situation, as well as amounts that were paid to inspectors by the municipalities in the past. It would be wiser, after a complete examination of the amounts charged by all municipalities in 2005, to set a rate per inspector for 2006, that while lower than neighboring counties, ensures a balanced budget in 2006.

To read the Coalition’s complete report and statement in adobe format please click HERE.

UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 19, 2006:

The Erie County Legislature will be holding a public forum on the Help America Vote Act ("HAVA"), and comments from the public are sought on the readiness of the Erie County Board of Elections and local municipalities for the new law and its costs, including possible increased pay for elections inspectors.

WHERE: County Legislature Chambers, 92 Franklin Street, Fourth Floor, Buffalo

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 22, 2006


The anticipated speakers at this public comment session include County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz (also the chair of the WNY Coalition for Progress' Election Reform Group), Board of Elections Commissioners Dennis Ward and Ralph Mohr, Budget Director Kenneth Vetter and local elected officials

UPDATE AS OF FEBRUARY 15, 2006:

On Tuesday, February 14, 2006 the New York State Board of Elections issued a Second Draft of the New Voting Machine Regulations. These new regulations added specific provisions requiring all electronic voting machines ("DREs") to have certain voter verified paper trails.

The draft regulations will be posted until February 24, 2006, and additional public comments are accepted until then. All comments received by that date will be considered in making any further changes to the regulations. Send comments to:

NYS Board of Elections
40 Steuben Street
Albany, NY 12207-2108
or
info@elections.state.ny.us

UPDATE AS OF JANUARY 22, 2006:

As reported by the Washington Post, a Florida election official manipulated the results of controlled tests of electronic voting machines to prove that it could be done.

Four times over the past year Sancho told computer specialists to break in to his voting system. And on all four occasions they did, changing results with what the specialists described as relatively unsophisticated hacking techniques. To Sancho, the results showed the vulnerability of voting equipment manufactured by Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, which is used by Leon County and many other jurisdictions around the country.

Sancho's most recent demonstration was last month. Harri Hursti, a computer security expert from Finland, manipulated the "memory card" that records the votes of ballots run through an optical scanning machine.

Then, in a warehouse a few blocks from his office in downtown Tallahassee, Sancho and seven other people held a referendum. The question on the ballot:

"Can the votes of this Diebold system be hacked using the memory card?"

Two people marked yes on their ballots, and six no. The optical scan machine read the ballots, and the data were transmitted to a final tabulator. The result? Seven yes, one no.
To read the article in full click HERE!

UPDATE AS OF JANUARY 13, 2006:

Justice Dept. Threatens to Sue N.Y. for failing to Implement HAVA

The ongoing HAVA implementation saga in New York has taken a new twist as the federal government is now threatening to sue the state for failing to implement the HAVA rules in the proper timeline. According to the Justice Department, New York is the worst state when it comes towards implementing the rules, and is far behind the others. Here is the beginning of a story about the latest developments from the Albany Times-Union.

The U.S. Justice Department is preparing to sue New York state over what it calls the worst record of any state in the nation in complying with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, according to a letter obtained Wednesday.

The letter came as the state acknowledged that county boards of elections around the state could have just eight days before the September primary to buy new voting machines, figure out how they work and train poll workers to use them under a timeline the state Board of Elections concedes is unacceptable.

The letter from Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said New York has failed to comply with HAVA’s requirements to compile a statewide voter registration list, or have in place an acceptable voting system.

HAVA, passed in the aftermath of the 2000 election debacle in Florida, provided states with federal funds to modernize their voting systems. States are supposed to comply with HAVA in time for the 2006 elections.

The state doesn’t expect to have election machines approved and available for counties until September. The voter list isn’t expected to be in place until December or early 2007.

Citing information the Justice Department received at a meeting with state officials in December, Kim wrote, “It is clear that New York is not close to approaching full HAVA compliance and, in our view, is further behind in that regard than any other state in the country.”
To read the artcile in full click HERE!

UPDATE AS OF JANUARY 10, 2006:

Report of a Public Test of New Voting Machines in Rochester

The January 9, 2006 edition of the Finger Lakes Times has an excellent article reporting on a recent public test of new voting machines conducted in the Town of Henrietta in Monroe County. The article not only describes each of the proposed systems presented, but also how they impact the handicapped. To read the article please click here:
http://www.fltimes.com/Main.asp?SectionID=38&SubSectionID=121&ArticleID=10691.

The January 8, 2006 edition of The Journal News from Westchester County also had an excellent article on the coming voting machine "crisis" facing counties in New York State. To read that article please click here:
http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060108/NEWS02/601080311/1019/NEWS03.

UPDATE AS OF DECEMBER 5, 2005:
New York's Board of Elections Publishes Proposed New Voting Machine Regulations and Hearing Schedules

On November 30, 2005 the New York State Board of Elections released proposed voting machine regulations to take effect in order that New York State comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). As of today's date the WNY Coalition for Progress' Election Law Reform Working Group has yet to review these proposed regulations in detail, and will be issuing its opinion on the regulations soon.

In the meantime, according to the Board of Elections' press release, these regulations were written to make sure that the changes in Election Law mandated by HAVA are implemented properly to ensure that new voting machines certified for sale in New York meet Federal and State standards for security, reliability and accessability. Copies of the draft regulations may also be obtained by calling the Board at 518-474-1953 or by contacting any county board of elections.

The Board encourages citizens to comment on the draft regulations by sending their concerns or recommendations to the Board by mail to its Albany address or by e-mail to ldaghlian@elections.state.ny.us. The Board will also hold public hearings commencing at 10:30 am at the locations listed below.

  • December 13, 2005 - Rochester. Monroe County Board of Elections, Voting Machine Service Center, 2595 Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road(across from Monroe Community College).


  • December 16, 2005 - Albany. Legislative Office Building, Hearing Room B, Empire State Plaza.


  • December 20, 2005 - New York City. 250 Broadway(across from City Hall), Senate Hearing Room, Room 1920, 19th Floor.

Persons wishing to present testimony at any of the above hearings should contact the State Board. Oral testimony will be limited to 10 minutes duration and 10 copies of the prepared testimony should be submitted on the day of the hearing. Those who do not have prepared testimony or who did not contact the Board prior to the hearing date and wish to speak, will be allotted up to 5 minutes to do so at the end of the session. To find out more information please go the Board of Elections' Website.

UPDATE AS OF NOVEMBER 22, 2005:
As reported by the New York Times, "Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday that if elected governor he will end a practice that many say is at the root of Albany's dysfunctional government: the power of state lawmakers to draw legislative districts so that incumbents are perennially re-elected.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, called the current system "a classic conflict of interest" and said that as governor he would push for a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines. If the Legislature did not agree to such a change, he pledged that he would veto the next set of district lines established unless the boundaries were "reflective of democracy, not incumbent protection."

Mr. Spitzer made the pledge after delivering a speech here in which he called for a broad series of changes to state government, including imposing stricter campaign finance rules and reducing the role of party politics in choosing judges. He has been attacked by Republicans and by potential rivals for lavishing more attention on his high-profile Wall Street investigations than on a state government that many say is rife with problems."

To read the entire article, please click the following link which will take you to the Coalition's Internet Forum:

http://wnyprogress.org/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=290#290

UPDATE AS OF OCTOBER 22, 2005:
As Reported by the Associated Press, the state Board of Elections formally began the process this past Thursday of settling on new voting machine standards for New York.

The state board's advisory committee on voting machine standards held its first meeting Thursday. Board spokesman Lee Daghlian said the goal is for the state board to approve machine standards by January.

Once that is done, voting machine companies will have to submit machines for certification by the board before counties can start buying the machines that are supposed to be in operation for the 2006 elections.

To read the Complete AP article please click HERE!

Also, the non-partisan federal Government Accountability Office ("GAO") issued a report on October 21, 2005 related to the security and reliability of electronic voting machines. In sum, the GAO found that "some of [the] concerns about electronic voting machines have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes." The GAO determined that these concerns "merit the focused attention of federal state and local authorities responsible for election administration."

To read the report in full please click here:

October 21, 2005 GAO Electronic Voting Machine Report


To keep track of issues related to election laws and voting machines on a daily basis please check out ELECTIONLINE.ORG, the definitive site on the Internet for up-to-date news.

To read the amendments to New York's Election law providing for the use of new voting machines as adopted by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Pataki on July 15, 2005, please click HERE.

To find out more about the Election Working group please contact Chairperson Mark Poloncarz.

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