Although New York City may not sleep, it does procrastinate. NYC will be one of the last municipalities in the U.S. to adopt electronic voting machines for elections. In fact, had the old voting machines not been replaced by January 14th, the state government would have been forced to step in and select new electronic machines for the city.
The decision to contract for voting machines isn’t as easy as it may seem. Voting machines are graded on ease of usage, reliability, predicted years of use, and most importantly, accuracy. Contracts are often political battles; the NYC voting machine contract is no different. The NYC Board of Elections was tasked with choosing new voting machines for the city. After narrowing it down to two choices: Dominion, a Toronto based producer that would employ more than 60 New Yorkers (their proposal can be found here), or Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb (their proposal can be found here). ES&S, the dominant voting machine provider in the country, received slightly higher scores from the Board of Elections. The complete report and how scores were calculated can be found at Board of Elections.
ES&S has severe problems with overvoting (when the voter is allowed to vote for more than the maximum level of selections). This results in a spoilt vote which under law is not included in the final tally. ES&S machines even somehow managed to assign votes to elections that weren’t even on the ballot. The numerous problems with ES&S machines will be covered in an upcoming article.
The contract offered was priced the same to both parties. The contract as of January 4th 2010 reported by Ithaca journal is worth 40 million dollars. A report by the New York Times on January 5th 2010 projects the contract at 50 million dollars. Whatever the cost, the new voting machines will be used in NYC for the next ten to twenty years.
On January 5th, Election Systems and Software was selected to provide the new voting machines. Why wasn’t Dominion Voting chosen? The main reason, according the Board of Elections, is that ES&S is easier to read and use for two important demographics: the disabled and immigrants. The new electronic machines mean that the once traditional (since 1960) lever machines have been replaced. Instead there will be SAT style oval bubbles. These “SAT exams” will them be fed into a scanner and counted. The good news is my beloved city is finally in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Tony Guo is a student at William and Mary School of Law