Monday, November 22, 2010

Election with new e-voting systems: a smoother experience for New Yorkers

New York is the last state to replace lever-operated machines with electronic ones in compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The state saw some problems with the unveiling of electronic voting machines in the statewide primary in September when Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as calling the glitches a “royal screw up.”

However, the most recent Election Day saw none of the same issues as in the primaries and voters generally found the new machines both intuitive and easy to use. The improvements were the result of working out the technological concerns seen in 10 of the 1380 machines and better training of some 36,000 poll workers.
The same old lever- pull style machines were in use in New York for the past 80 years, longer than most voters have been alive, and many found the new process a welcome change and a more efficient method, with less waiting in line than the previous elections.

Leading up to the elections, media coverage has been keyed up to jump on potential polling machine glitches – both real and imagined. Ever since Florida’s infamous “hanging-chad” embarrassment, the media coverage angle has trended towards hyping error contingencies.
Stories have generally focused on the potential for glitches or the possibility of computer hackers infiltrating electronic polling machines, but most researchers and specialists are far more frightened by the current paper-only machines. They say that paper ballots have the possibility of being lost or changed, citing the estimated millions of votes lost in the 2000 election.

New York combines both electronic voting and optical scanners, considered the best of both worlds by experts. The latter voting solution consists of filling in the ovals next to the names of the candidates of choice on a paper ballot using a pen or a ballot marking device. Once choices are made, the ballot is inserted into the scanner to cast the vote. The paper ballots are kept and transported to poll sites for verification.

The welcoming of technology that makes democratic processes more efficient and transparent has been an important change in New York. Even though many states in the country continue relentless towards improving their electoral systems and changing their old-school methods whose flaws have been proven, it would be relevant for opponents to analyze experiences such as the New York’s. Once and for all, these examples should be taken as positive models that focus on the benefits these technologies give to citizens, rather than the continuous focus of the e-vote opponents that keep highlighting the glitches of this technology that has been developed for efficient, transparent and fraud-free elections around the globe.