County Exec Seeks to Continue Lever System Which “Has Proven to be Reliable”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy announced Thursday the county will file suit against the New York State Board of Elections to block its mandate that counties must purchase new technology voting machines by September, 2007. See "Suffolk County Executive Just Says 'No' to Electronic Vote Counting" and "Suffolk County Executive Threatens Fight to Keep Lever Voting Machines".
Levy was joined at a press conference by Suffolk lawmaker Jon Cooper, as well as Nassau County Legislator Lisanne Altmann who has expressed a desire to file a similar suit on behalf of Nassau voters. Suffolk officials said they do not believe the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires the county to replace lever machines.
The two Long Island counties constitute the largest jurisdictions in the state outside of New York City with a total of nearly 2-million registered voters.
"The tried and tested lever system has proven to be reliable, and I do not agree with a state mandate that we spend millions of dollars on equipment which may be confusing, or more importantly, vulnerable to tampering and fraud," said Levy.
"In my twenty years of public life, I can not recall an election where complaints centered on problems with the lever machines," Levy continued. "We in Suffolk County should not be inconvenienced or forced to spend millions of our precious taxpayer dollars because counties in Florida had troubles with hanging chads."
For a comparison of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine reliability vs. the reliability of lever machines, see: VoteTrustUSA, "DRE Reliability: Failure by Design?" The same federal voting system reliability standard applies to both DRE and Optical Scan electronic vote counting systems.
The County Executive cited a recent Princeton University study which demonstrated the ability to rig the nation’s most widely-used electronic voting machine in less than one minute in a way which is virtually undetectable and change an election outcome. A similar demonstration has been conducted with an optical scan system by Finnish computer scientist Harri Hursti in Leon County, FL.
As with DREs, to ensure an accurate vote count, the optical scan systems would require logic and accuracy testing (800 votes per year minimum on every machine per NY Election Law), auditing of ballot definition programming by party representatives (permitted under NY Election Law), and post election random manual audits of paper ballots (required under NY Election Law, but not yet formalized by State Board of Elections Regulations).
"It's clear that the public supports the continued use of lever machines, which have proven reliable for many decades," said Legislator Cooper. "The New York State law is misguided and, luckily for Suffolk voters, poorly drafted. I am confident that, by the end of the day, common sense will prevail."
"Nassau County residents shouldn't have to pay for expensive new machines when everyone agrees that the old ones work just fine," said Legislator Altman, who plans to propose legislation directing the County Attorney in Nassau to file a similar lawsuit.
In the 2004 General Election, NY state's 20,000 lever machines had a residual vote rate of 0.77% in the Presidential race -- about one-third less than than the national average of 1.08%.
In the same election, there were a total of only three (3) machine-related complaints in Nassau and Suffolk Counties combined in the VoteProtect Election Incident Reporting System (EIRS).
And then there are the costs: "The estimated cost for new equipment in Suffolk County is at least $14 million, and it has yet to be determined what percentage of our capital costs will be reimbursed," Levy noted. "Additionally, it will cost us at least $1 million for a climate controlled warehouse needed for the electronic equipment, and there will also be extensive training and maintenance costs."
"As the old saying goes, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it', and I believe I speak for the majority of Suffolk residents who feel that our present system is not broken," Levy said.
The lawsuit, which will be filed in State Supreme Court today, is seeking a declaratory judgment from the court to determine if the county, as Levy asserts, has the right to retain its lever machines. Suffolk is also challenging the State Board of Election's interpretation on constitutional grounds, claiming that a requirement to switch to the new voting equipment does not guarantee security for voters and can scare and intimidate persons unfamiliar or uncomfortable with electronic equipment, resulting in lost votes.
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