The NYS Assembly faces a stark existential choice right now – one that has gone virtually unnoticed by the press. It could affect the composition of the legislature itself, and it could decide whether New Yorkers can keep our hard-won right to vote on hand-marked paper ballots. Protecting that right is key to being able to recover from miscounted elections – whether such miscounts are due to computer errors, or to deliberately inserted malware. Verifiable elections are key to the accuracy of – and confidence in – our election outcomes.
Legislators’ urgent choice: whether to pass A1115C, the Hybrid “All-in-One” Voting Machine Ban. By the time you read this, the NYS Senate, which approved an earlier version last June, may already have passed S309B. This bill updates New York’s voting machine requirements to meet the needs of the current high-stakes cybersecurity environment.
New York was once a leader in election security. While other states purchased touch screens that became notorious for changing votes, particularly in African-American districts, New York chose hand-marked paper ballots, tabulated with simple, stand-alone scanners – the gold standard for secure, verifiable elections. Ballot-marking devices (BMDs), also without attached tabulating scanners, were available in polling places.
We still benefit from this choice. When most people vote in New York, we hand mark a paper ballot with an approved pen. We then insert it into a scanner that records the votes and stores the ballot. BMDs remain available. These are minimal conditions for good election security.
But new voting machines have since been developed with features not anticipated over a decade ago when legislators developed our current voting-machine standards. Called “hybrids” or “all-in-ones,” they combine in one machine a computer, a printer for marking ballots, and a scanner for tabulating votes. Computer-security experts warn that they can undermine the will of the voters because of a serious security-design flaw: after you cast your ballot, it goes under the printhead on its way to the scanner. A computer glitch or malware controlling the printer could alter your ballot after you last see it. (Note: voting machines are computers. Any computer can be hacked – even if not connected to the internet. And every computer can be mis-programmed.) Changing just a few votes can undetectably alter many election outcomes. New York State recently instituted 100% hand recounts of ballots in very close elections. But only if ballots accurately reflect the will of the voters can a recount repair a miscount. The last step before a ballot is scanned should be the voter verifying it – not the computer sliding it under a printer! Would you hand your ballot to a stranger with a pen and walk away?
The security of our elections is in the hands of the Assembly. Passing A1115C will protect voters and candidates against future purchase of machines with this security-design flaw, and against counting votes with barcodes or QR codes, for a similar reason: voters can’t verify the accuracy of such marks. The bill will establish a right to vote in polling places on a hand-marked paper ballot (or non-tabulating BMD).
The timing is urgent. Our old scanners and BMDs are breaking down and need replacing. Meanwhile, two “bad” hybrid all-in-ones are up for immediate certification in New York State. Computer-security researchers have repeatedly warned of severe security flaws. Each has its own terrible history that demonstrates it could miscount future NY elections.
- The ES&S ExpressVote XL badly miscounted an election in Northampton, PA, the first time it was deployed; some legislators still want a refund.
- The Dominion ICX, in a Georgia voting-rights lawsuit against its use, was found, after close examination by a national security expert, to have multiple serious security vulnerabilities that could result in an altered outcome. The judge ordered they be kept secret. Federal security agency CISA agreed.
Both these machines use touchscreens. The ExpressVote XL produces long, skinny ballots different in form from hand marked, so it has to be used by all voters wherever it is deployed to protect the secret ballot of those who need a BMD. This can result in excessively long lines as people mark their ballots one at a time per computer – often neglecting to review their ballots under the pressure of the people in line behind them. In contrast, using pens to mark their ballots, many people at once can take their time making their choices, then slip the ballots quickly into the scanner – which are less expensive, and fewer are needed.
Because of their security-design flaws, allowing these hybrid voting machines in New York has the potential to overturn the current Democratic super-majority, no matter the will of the voters. And deploying these machines could generate the kind of uncertainty about election outcomes that fueled the January 6th insurrection. Worse: such uncertainty would have a basis in fact.
Meanwhile, there are better options for non-tabulating ballot-marking devices in the pipeline.
Every legislator should be concerned that without A1115C becoming law, an undetectably miscounted election could cost them their seat – or even the Democrats their majority.
The Democrats in Congress have been trying to pass bills with similar bans on tabulating ballot-marking devices for years. The House passed H.R.1. Senators Wyden and Klobuchar, with support from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, submitted the PAVE Act, the SAFE Act, and the Freedom to Vote Act. Mitch McConnell torpedoed every one. New York State is left holding the bag: we must protect our own elections!
If the Assembly listens to the stories told by ES&S’ deceptive sales people and no-holds-barred lobbyists, it could end up unwittingly re-playing in New York Mitch McConnell’s role in Washington. We must not let that happen. Please Write Your Assembly Member: Pass A1115C, the Hybrid ‘All-in-One’ Voting Machine Ban Bill immediately!
Julie Weiner, MS
Member, Let New York Vote Coalition
Chair, NYCD16-Indivisible Election Integrity Committee
Board Member, Citizens for Voting Integrity New York CitizensVotingNY.org
Member, SMART Legislation Working Group. See Hybrid Voting Problems (smartelections.us)
About The Author: Julie Weiner, professionally a licensed mental health counselor, has been an antiwar activist all her adult life. Since the halting of the 2000 Florida vote count in a presidential election that ultimately resulted in the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, she has increasingly focused her activism on election integrity. In January 2005, she attended the Democratic Caucus hearings held by Congressmen John Conyers and John L. Lewis in Ohio, where the ease of election manipulation using touchscreen voting machines was demonstrated. In the summer of 2019, she worked with the United Nations Association-USA to organize a Universal Periodic Review of election integrity in the U.S. that was submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission and publicly reviewed by each delegation. She currently works with Citizens for Voting Integrity New York, NYCD16-Indivisible, SMART Legislation and Let New York Vote to help persuade local and federal legislators to protect our elections with hand marked, 100% hand-counted paper ballots, and to ban the use of tabulating ballot marking devices. She is a Democratic Party District Leader in Yonkers and has frequently volunteered as a poll watcher.