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New York: In Defense of the Full Face Ballot PDF  | Print |  Email
By Howard Stanislevic   
November 26, 2005
The Brennan Center for Justice of the New York University School of Law has recently opined that New York's so-called full-face ballot law, which requires all races on the ballot to be displayed within a single ballot frame, is somehow obsolete. Their primary reason for this assertion was that this ballot format makes it more expensive for vendors peddling electronic touch screen voting machines to do business in New York.

The state legislature has been accused of retaining the full-face ballot just so that local races will be on the same "front page" as federal and statewide races. In fact, a bill advocating exactly what the Brennan folks have, did not even make it out of committee last session. But let me point out a much more important reason for the continued use of the full-face ballot: ballot and election integrity.

With the advent of touch screen voting machines, paper ballots have become vapor ballots. A voter sees ballot text on a screen which, due to programming errors or deliberate malfeasance, may have nothing to do with the actual votes recorded in the election database. Options such as straight party voting, which is illegal in 33 states yet programmable on any e-voting system, actually cause votes to be cast in multiple races on the ballot simultaneously with a single touch of the screen. At least one vendor refers to such races as "controlling races" because they control the votes cast in other races on the ballot, which the voters may never even examine.

In our neighboring state of Pennsylvania, an e-voting machine called the Unilect PATRIOT was recently thrown out due to excessive undervotes created by a confusing voter interface. In his April 2005 report to the Secretary of the Commonwealth of PA, Michael Shamos, Ph.D., J.D. clearly stated that "Straight party voting on [e-voting machines] that do not display a full-face ballot, causes changes to be made on ballot pages that are not currently being viewed by the voter. In fact, it may cause the entire ballot to be changed." Is this what the Brennan Center is advocating for the state of NY?

For the 2004 election, the national Election Incident Reporting System shows nearly 100 incidents of vote switching in which votes cast on the e-ballot for one candidate or issue, had mysteriously changed to votes for another. These are probably just the tip of the iceberg because without the full-face ballot, most of the ballot is hidden from the voters most of the time. And once a flawed e-ballot has been cast by a voter, even a recount would not detect or correct it.

Rather than second guessing our duly elected legislature and trying to cut corners on electronic voting machine costs, the learned attorneys of the Brennan Center should focus their efforts on advocating for improved voter education and a low cost, precinct count, paper ballot/optical scan voting system with ballot marking devices for voters with special needs. Such a system would make the issue of ballot corruption moot, and enable auditing and recounting of our elections to be conducted as easily and independently as possible.
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