New York: In Defense of the Full Face Ballot
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By Howard Stanislevic
November 26, 2005
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.
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
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