Protecting vendors, not voters
As I sit here, I’m embarrassed. I’m 56 years old, I have been a New Yorker for 56 years, and I’m embarrassed on behalf of the State of New York. I write these words tonight and they come from my heart, but I am not the first to say them. Today they come from me because I witnessed an appalling display of how willing are some in the State Board of Elections to represent the interests of DRE vendors, even when this directly conflicts with the interests of voters and the requirements of state law.
Today the SBOE should have approved at least three of six submitted systems to proceed to the next step in the Court ordered HAVA plan. There were also three that should have been flatly rejected based on New York State Election law, and the now expired January 1o deadline for submitting completed systems. This would have been the right thing to do for New York’s voters and county election commissioners who need to make machine decisions by February 8. Approval of machines was the single most important decision the Board had to make at the January 23 meeting.
Instead, in full view of the public and press, one half of the 4 person Democratic and Republican controlled State Board of Elections delayed and impeded, allowing no discussion to take place for seven hours until after 5:30pm press deadlines had passed. At one point, acting like spoiled children, they simply refused to come into the conference room to join Commissioner Doug Kellner (D) so that a quorum could be formed, stonewalling any debate on this critical question. Commissioners Neal Kelleher (R) and Helena Moses Donahue (R) showed no respect for over 100 county commissioners and members of the public by making us wait for over 7 hours before they would even allow discussion to take place.
And why did this happen? Because Commissioners Neal Kelleher (R) and Helena Moses Donahue (R) were desperately searching for a way to keep the LibertyVote DRE from being rejected. And rejected it certainly should be. In Orwellian fashion the LibertyVote DRE had been submitted as “ballot marking device”, even though the Dutch DRE (banned in its home country of Holland) doesn’t produce a legal ballot or a usable way for voters with disabilities to independently verify what’s printed on the grocery receipt style piece of paper it produces.
As a member of New York’s Citizen Advisory Committee, I evaluated the submitted systems on January 18 and made a recommendation to the State Board. Section 7-202(1)(e) of New York State law says that systems approved by the state board must: “provide the voter an opportunity to privately and independently verify votes selected and the ability to privately and independently change such votes or correct any error before the ballot is cast and counted.” Based on this section of the law, it is clear to me that of the six systems we scrutinized, only three provided this capability; three others clearly did not. The LibertyVote DRE clearly did not, as I noted in a separate report submitted with my recommendations.
I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Commissioner Doug Kellner (D) stated to the assembled public and press that three of the systems, the new Sequoia scanner/ballot marker and two Automarks, met the requirements of state law, and that the three others, two DREs from Avante and the LibertyVote, plainly did not. Describing the serious problems with LibertyVote’s verification design, he repeatedly stated “Based on Section 7-202(1)(e) of New York’s laws I cannot vote to approve the LibertyVote DRE.”
But whether the LibertyVote DRE is even minimally usable by voters with disabilities, produces anything remotely resembling a ballot, or is the same failed DRE technology being rapidly abandoned by other states seemed not to matter to Commissioners Neal Kelleher (R) and Helena Moses Donahue (R). What did seem to matter was finding some way, any way, to try to force Commissioner Kellner (D) to approve the LibertyVote DRE so that the politically connected company could stay in the game of profiting large from New York’s HAVA funds.
To his credit, Commissioner Kellner (D) did not give, and for today at least, profit did not succeed over principle. It’s good to see that some at the Board of Elections still believe that serving the needs of voters is the prime directive. For his fellow commissioners, I am embarrassed and ashamed that they squandered so much time, energy, and good will in order to help ensure that a politically connected company can cash in at the expense of New York’s voters. I found their behavior throughout the day outrageous and appalling, but there was more to come. At the end of this long, long day I witnessed a subtle, but even more upsetting scene. As people were filing out and the room emptied I happened to see Bobby Witko, the president of LibertyVote, gently pat one of the commissioners on the shoulder and quietly say “Good job”. A good job indeed. But not, unfortunately, for the voters of New York State.