By Jazlyn Beltre
The citizens of New York will be introduced to a new voting system on election day this year. Although according to the Board of Elections, the new voting system is as simple as 1-2-3, questions have arisen concerning the new systems integrity.
Why the change? According to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), that was passed in October 2002 by Congress, it is required that all States implement voting systems that produce a permanent paper record which can be used in case of a recount. This was done in order to improve some flaws seen in the election of 2000, according to EAC.gov, which is the website for the United States Election Assistance Commission. The lever machines were replaced by this system in all poll sites beginning in 2010.
On Election Day, voters will be greeted by poll workers to help with the new paper ballot system. What is it? According to VoteTheNewWayNY.com, a website certified by the Board of Elections, we will now be using paper ballots.Voters will be given these ballots by poll workers. The website describes voting in three simple steps. First, get your ballot. Second, mark your ballot. And third, scan your ballot. “The scanner then tabulates the votes after the polls close on Election Day. This poll site voting system provides a verifiable paper record and allows all voters, including voters with disabilities, to vote privately and independently at their poll site,” according to the same website. But there are a few steps in between that can further help voters new to the system.
According to the instructional video on VoteTheNewWayNY.com, we will be given a paper ballot and be moved to the privacy booth. Essentially, it is a desk with three long boards rising from it, in order to prevent others from seeing your ballot. You will have to use a pen to mark your choices, a familiar system for college students since the ballots layout is similar to scantrons, except you will not need a number two pencil to vote. Like scantrons, it is important you fill in the bubble for your candidate. Putting an X or a check or circle the bubble next to your candidate’s name, or making stray marks on the paper will result in your ballot not being counted, since the scanner would not be able to identify your choice. If you would like to make a change to your ballot, it is best you request another; voters can request up to three ballots if they make mistakes. Magnifying sheets are also available at each booth to help voters better view the text of the ballot. Privacy sleeves, which is a folder to place your ballot in for privacy, are also provided to shield your ballot after you have marked it.
There are also Ballot Marking Devices (BMD) for voters who may need assistance. There are two ways for voters to access the BMD and that is by viewing it on the screen or listening to it. There is a touch screen, sip and puff device, key bad; also in braille, and a rocker paddle device to help voters that may not be able to mark their ballot otherwise.
The third step is scanning your paper ballot into the scanner. It is recommended that only the voter, and not the poll worker, enters the ballot into the scanner. It is also important for the voter not to rip or fold his ballot before entering it into the scanner, or it would not be read. But, any way you insert your ballot, it will be read by the scanner, if properly filled out. Then the voter can go on with his day.
But, there are a few gaffes in this new voting system. On the website, they answer the question, “What if I mark more choices for one contest than I am supposed to?” The answer is simple. You can ask for your ballot to be returned to you and you can request a new one to complete, or the scanning screen will ask you if you would like to leave your ballot “as is.” If the voter decides to leave their ballot “as is,” than the scanner will stay with the ballot, but your vote will not be counted.
This is a major flaw, since voters with poor eyesight or even healthy voters, can mistakenly press the “as is” option, without knowing their vote will not be counted. Especially since making a mistake won’t be such a challenge, since the font on the ballots are so small, candidates’ names could be hard to see, which is another flaw of the system. According to a September 17 article in the New York Times, “Voters Annoyed by Hard-To-Read Ballots” by Michael M. Grynbaumon, “Voters….were handed ballots with candidates’ names printed in an eye-straining 7-point type, akin to the ingredient list on the side of a cereal box.” Grynbaum also described that some voters questioned why the instructions on the ballot were displayed in larger and clearer fonts than the names of the candidates and the offices they were running for.
But, it seems as if using the BMD may be easier than filling out ones own ballot by hand. After the voter selects his option on the BMD, his candidate will be highlighted in yellow, and he even has the choice of writing in his candidate’s name. After the voter has reviewed his selections, he can click ‘Mark Ballot.’ Then HIS ballot would be printed and a poll worker can assist him in scanning the printed ballot if needed.
A major problem that has not been widely publicized as the election approaches, is who owns the new scanner machines that will be used to decide our new President? A 2009 CBS article “Can Voting Machines be Trusted?” by Joel Roberts stated that it may not be a coincidence that the softwares being used in this election by Diebold, Sequoia and Electronic Systems and Software, are all owned by Republican contributors. The problem with this is that there may be loopholes associated with this new electronic system. According to the same article, Roberts stated that there are rumors that these companies are capable of doing ‘dirty tricks’ by “using computer software purchased under proprietary contracts that make it illegal to examine the equipment, votes for Democrats are lost, changed or disqualified.” This is an issue because it could put a President in office based on false ballots, swing electoral colleges, and rob the people of their constitutional right to choose who they want in the oval office.
Recently, FreePress.org has addressed this issue as well. According to an article published a few days ago, on October 12 “Will H.I.G.-owned e-voting machines give Romney the White House?” by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman stated that “Electronic voting machines owned by Mitt Romney’s business buddies and set to count the votes in Cincinnati could decide the 2012 election.” According to their article, it was the alleged manipulation of electronic voting that won George W. Bush his second term in 2004.
The votes of New Yorkers will be tallied by the Poll Site Voting System also known as PVS. “A Poll site Voting System (PVS) is a portable electronic voting system that uses an optical scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results. This system allows for paper ballots to be immediately tabulated at your poll site,” according to VoteTheNewWayNY.com. To learn more about the new polling system before Election Day, visit http://www.votethenewwayny.com/en/community-outreach/learning-center.aspx where you can choose a center to vist near you, where trained staff will be available to walk you through the new process.