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New Mexico: Letter to County Clerks PDF  | Print |  Email
By Robert Stearns and Paul Stokes   
November 23, 2005
The following Memorandum wa sent to the 33 County Clerks in New Mexico by Robert Stearns of VerifiedVoting New Mexico and Paul Stokes of United Voters of New Mexico.

AutoMark Plus Optical Scanning or DREs? - Before You Decide, Think About This


Like you, every official wants to run an efficient election in which citizens are given full opportunity to vote independently and privately, and in which their votes are counted correctly and preserved for auditing and recounting.

In deciding whether to use an ES&S AutoMark system, a machine that does not count votes but does produce voter-verifiable conventional paper ballots which are counted by precinct-based optical scan machines and preserved for auditing and recounting, or a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) system, with ES&S iVotronic or Sequoia AVC Edge touch-screen machines that count the votes and produce a voter-verifiable paper trail on rolls of paper tape that are preserved for auditing and recounting, have you considered comparative costs, staff training, election challenges, and legal exposure?

Here are some comparisons worth considering:

1) If you choose a DRE in place of an AutoMark with optical-scan counting, your costs will go up. Counties using optical scan have much lower costs than those using DRE systems. In Florida, the yearly operating cost for Sarasota County’s DREs was 67% higher than Manatee County’s optical scanners. Orange County’s operating cost for its optical scanners was only a third of Miami-Dade County’s cost for its DREs. Another study covering 32 Florida counties showed that it cost them 40% more to operate DREs than it did for optical scanners.

The difference arises largely because many more DREs are needed to run an election without long lines of waiting voters. The voter must turn pages on the touch screen to access the full ballot, which takes longer than marking a full ballot on a sheet of paper for optical scanning. A single AutoMark and a single optical scanning machine can accommodate all but the largest polling places. By contrast, to handle the same number of voters, you would need multiple DRE machines for all but the smallest polling places.

Many counties already use optical scanners to count the large numbers of paper ballots from absentee and early voters, who make up an increasingly bigger proportion of the voter total. Why use DREs whose paper tape ballots cannot be counted by the optical scan machines you may already have? Such ballots must be separated in order to be audited or recounted manually, which takes much more staff time. By contrast the AutoMark machine uses conventional paper ballots which are tailor made for optical scanning. It is also much more easily programmed than a DRE machine. With AutoMark you avoid the cost of setting up the counting and merging of ballots since they all get counted by optical scan.

2) DRE failures have forced elections to be redone in North Carolina and Mississippi at considerable expense. DRE machine jamming has caused major delays in election day voting in California and Florida. When something goes wrong, the consequences are extreme on the DRE but relatively contained on the AutoMark since it is only an assistive device and should it break down, voters, including the handicapped, can still vote by using its paper ballots. Because DRE systems are more vulnerable to problems, you must train your election workers to a higher operating standard.

3) The AutoMark is preferred by disabled voters, particularly the visually and physically impaired. It utilizes a ballot marker that enables the disabled to vote without assistance and in private. It has a sip/puff tube for voters unable to use a touch screen and an audio function for blind voters. It is equally efficient for non-disabled voters. Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Minnesota have selected the AutoMark as their voting machine of choice, as well as counties in Wyoming, California, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Florida. The AutoMark is fully compliant with the requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and purchase of it is being made with HAVA funding.

4) The federal government says that states with verifiable paper trails must allow blind voters to verify their paper ballots. DRE systems cannot meet this mandate. They only allow the blind voter to verify the electronic record of his vote. Tests in California of the DRE system revealed cases where the paper and electronic records did not match. Thus it is more likely that DREs producing paper tape ballots will be challenged in court.

5) There is no statistically significant method to do your Logic-and-Accuracy test on  a DRE voting system, but there are statistically significant ways to test an optical scan voting system. Therefore elections using DREs are much more open to challenges for machine inaccuracy.

6) The sequence of ballots on DRE paper tape can be matched with the sequence of citizens registering to vote, which unless protected by close and costly security at the polling place and thereafter, can destroy the secrecy of the ballot and lead to “vote selling.” This is not a problem with the AutoMark whose ballots can be easily shuffled so that vote order is eliminated

Robert Stearns, VVNM and Paul Stokes, UVNM

NOTE: Verified Voting New Mexico and United Voters of New Mexico have no connection with the makers of the AutoMark machine, but we do believe that all alternatives should be fully considered before purchases are made with taxpayers’ money.
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