Remember when you first went to vote and realized that the lever machines were gone?
You may soon be in for a similar surprise. If the NY legislature fails to pass VIVA NY, the Voting Integrity and Verification Act of New York (A5934a/S6169a), your city or county could ditch hand-marked paper ballots in your polling place. You would have to mark your ballot through a touchscreen.
Currently, New York gives you two in-person voting options. You can mark your paper ballot with a pen. Or you can mark it with a “ballot-marking device” (BMD) – a computer-printer that lets you vote independently even if you have a visual or manual disability.
Currently, only one of these voting options, the BMD, is protected as a legal right. Hand marked paper ballots could soon disappear from polling places.
Congressional Democrats in Washington have repeatedly tried to close this loophole. The Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 would have required hand-marked paper ballots and non-tabulating BMDs in all polling places, but the filibuster prevented a vote. So now voting-machine vendors could get approval to sell expensive “universal-use ballot-marking devices” in New York – forcing everyone to vote on a touchscreen.
If they succeed, those small ballot-marking stations in our polling places for marking ballots with pens will be replaced with a spread-out array of extra-large, extra-expensive touchscreen computers with attached printers. If you can find one located where no one can walk behind you while you vote, you might still have a secret ballot.
In addition to cost, space and privacy problems, universal-use (UU-BMDs) make it difficult to verify whether the names on your ballot reflect your intent, and impossible to tell how the computer will count your votes. You’ll see all the candidates and propositions on the touchscreen. But for counting, auditing and recounts, the narrow card held under plexiglass the computer prints out will become your official ballot – and it shows only your picks, not all the choices for each office. You must verify your choices through that plastic screen. One study showed that when voters mark their ballots through a BMD, they miss 93% of errors on their cards. Also, most UU-BMDs encode votes as unverifiable bar codes or QR codes to tell the computer how to count your picks. These are programmable. Researchers call them a vector for potential hacks. You will have no way to know what they convey.
Vendors call these summary cards “verifiable paper ballots.” Theoretically verifiable, maybe. But not necessarily verified.
Hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard for security because you verify your ballot as you mark it. Since New York started hand recounting very close elections, every losing candidate, after reviewing every ballot during the recount, has gracefully conceded – no election-denial controversies here. This confidence in our election outcomes could be lost if computer-generated printouts replace our hand-marked paper ballots.
Since all computers are vulnerable to errors and hacking – even if not connected to the internet – more voters marking their ballots with computers multiplies the risk of inaccurately counted elections.
VIVA NY is a simple bill. It plugs the legal loophole, so voters can still choose either pens or BMDs. And it prohibits encoding votes as bar codes, since voters can’t verify them and they could be reprogrammed by hackers. (This risk has already led Colorado to ban bar-codes (including QR codes) for ballot counting.)
Who opposes VIVA NY?
The vendors want to sell many more expensive, lucrative voting machines here. Currently, polling places must have at least one ballot-marking device and one scanner. For all-BMD voting, boards of elections would need to buy many more machines to avoid long lines, since only one person at a time can mark a touchscreen.
Some disability-rights groups worry the bill would inhibit internet-voting research. The bill says nothing about research. Some demand that everyone vote on BMDs, saying the BMDs they fought for stigmatize people with disabilities. Other disability-rights advocates prioritize both security and accessibility.
Lobbyists are assuring the public, civil rights and community groups that their clients’ UU-BMDs are perfectly reliable. Anyone familiar with recent election history is aware that there have been many elections found to be compromised by computer glitches and corruption.
If you want to keep hand-marked paper ballots together with BMDs, call Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, 518-455-2585, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, 518-455-3791. Urge them to bring VIVA NY (A5934a/ S6169a) to the floor and get it passed.