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New York City Wants To Revive Old Voting Machines 211

Posted by Soulskill
from the technology-is-hard dept.
McGruber writes "The NY Times reports, 'New York City has spent $95 million over the past few years to bring its election process into the 21st century, replacing its hulking lever voting machines with electronic scanners. But now, less than three years after the new machines were deployed, election officials say the counting process with the machines is too cumbersome to use them for the mayoral primary this year, and then for the runoff that seems increasingly likely to follow as soon as two weeks later. In a last-ditch effort to avoid an electoral embarrassment, New York City is poised to go back in time: it is seeking to redeploy lever machines, a technology first developed in the 1890s, for use this September at polling places across the five boroughs. The city's fleet of lever machines was acquired in the 1960s and has been preserved in two warehouses in Brooklyn, shielded from dust by plastic covers."
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New York City Wants To Revive Old Voting Machines

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  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:11PM (#43876407)

    And do not need to be replaced.

    OK we're all done here.

    • and some can see leaning up and work on who you are voteing for.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        why can't you put a lever machine in a booth?

        • maybe it's just a old story. I think it was back in the old Chicago days

          • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:24PM (#43876611)

            I think it was back in the old Chicago days

            Given the recent IRS shenanigans, I think we have the new Chicago days now.

          • by cayenne8 (626475)

            maybe it's just a old story. I think it was back in the old Chicago days

            In Chicago, they likely still have the same VOTES left in the machines too.....

          • by number6x (626555)

            Dan Rostenkowski used to tell a story about an old lady he once met who was from Hammond, Indiana. He recounted how the lady said that her will stipulated that she be buried in Cook County, Illinois when she died.

            Rostenkowski asked why she wanted to be buried in Illinois when she was from Indiana?

            She replied that she was a life long Democrat, from the days of FDR and she wanted to continue to support the party with her votes after she died.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          A lever machine is its own voting booth.

          http://uploads.static.vosizneias.com/2013/03/lever_voting_machine.jpg

          Notice the curtains.

      • by GodInHell (258915)
        The ones in new york are enclosed by a built in booth with curtains that close when you lift the lever to start voting and open when you pull the lever to vote. If you're REALLY concerned that you're being watched just adjust the curtain.
    • Yes, but selling voting machines creates jobs. Why do you hate free enterprise?

    • That's not the point (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Pollux (102520) <speter AT tedata DOT net DOT eg> on Friday May 31, 2013 @04:14PM (#43877279) Journal

      No one said the machines didn't work. The point is that going back to old voting machines is an epic failure of the political system in the 21st century.

      Electronic voting is very simple, as long as it follows one cardnal rule: include the paper trail.

      1) Create a PoV (point-of-vote) touchscreen machine w/ touchscreen that's networkable. When the user is done voting, the machine sends an electronic tally to a state / national database to keep count.
      2) PoV machine also prints out a receipt for every voter after voting is complete, with detailed results that the voter can read and visually verify. Receipt includes a machine-readible 2D barcode.
      3) Receipt gets fed into an on-site audit machine that's not networked. It reads in all the paper receits, scans the barcodes, and keeps a separate count on-site. It's count is audited against the count in the state / national database as the first layer of verifying vote integrity.
      4) A random sampling of polling places perform paper counts of the receipts, which are then matched with both the machine-audit count and state/national database count as a second layer of verifying vote integrity.

      Bam, there you have it. Electronic voting with instantaneous results providing continual updates regarding vote counts which still require two levels of auditing including a paper-trail to preserve vote integrity. And all this could have been done with technology that's been around for 15 years.

      But capitalism has messed it up. Diebold gets contracts, palms get greased, and citizens get screwed.

      • by afidel (530433)

        Meh, we just used off the shelf scantron ballots here, fast to tally and easily verified by both the voter and auditors plus everyone who's been through the US education system in the last 40+ years is very familiar with them.

      • by hrvatska (790627)

        PoV machine also prints out a receipt for every voter after voting is complete, with detailed results that the voter can read and visually verify. Receipt includes a machine-readible 2D barcode.

        A detailed receipt verifying who a person voted for is a bad idea. It can be used to verify that purchased votes were actually delivered. Also, lots of people would not be able to vote freely if there was the possibility of a paper trail of how they voted.

        • Pollux was not suggesting people take the paper version home. It gets fed into a separate device before the voter leaves the polling place.

          Technically speaking, a voter could take a picture of the paper version before depositing it in the audit device, but then a voter could take a picture of the touchscreen, scantron, punchcard, or levers, whichever type of system is used.
          • by hrvatska (790627)
            A picture of the levers on lever voting machine is not proof of anything. When using a lever voting machine you enter a booth and pull a big lever which closes a curtain behind you. None of the levers used for making selections on the ballot are set. Until the big lever is pulled again you are free to make and change any of the levers. Once the big lever is pulled selections made with the levers are registered and all the levers are returned to their starting positions. Any pictures that might be taken are
          • by myth24601 (893486)

            Pollux was not suggesting people take the paper version home. It gets fed into a separate device before the voter leaves the polling place.

            Technically speaking, a voter could take a picture of the paper version before depositing it in the audit device, but then a voter could take a picture of the touchscreen, scantron, punchcard, or levers, whichever type of system is used.

            In some states it is illegal to take a picture of your ballot.

        • by fredklein (532096)

          A detailed receipt verifying who a person voted for is a bad idea. It can be used to verify that purchased votes were actually delivered.

          No- it verifies that someone voted for the specified candidate(s). It does NOT verify that that specific person did so.

          I can show you a receipt from Macy's for new sheets.... doesn't prove I was the one who bought the sheets.

      • It's important that you NOT have proof of who you voted for when you leave the voting station. Having proof means you can sell your vote, or get blackmailed to vote for their candidate. The reason behind voting in private instead of public show of hands is to keep the voting unbiased.
      • 2) PoV machine also prints out a receipt for every voter after voting is complete, with detailed results that the voter can read and visually verify. Receipt includes a machine-readible 2D barcode.

        That barcode is a bad idea - it is a point in which the human-readable part of the ballot can differ with the machine read part of the ballot.

        Better to design the ballot such that what the human voter reads and verifies is the same as what the machine reads - make it tabular or something so simple that it is not hard for either to read and understand with a very low error rate.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        if it's a machine printed code it could just as well be both machine and human readable in the modern world.
        I'm still perplexed by the fixation on having some kind of machine on the system though. You would think that volunteers would scale in USA, since it does everywhere else. especially when people in usa seem to be so fixated on the elections, having parties over them, absolutely HUGE party conventions..
        we do all elections by hand.. sometimes there's hundreds of candidates too(for parliament for example

      • by hjf (703092)

        How we roll in Argentina:
        1. Show up at the voting place. The guy in charge and some auditors verify your ID, cross your name on a list, and give you the blank ballot. (this year the list has your picture in it, since the new national identity card have photo and fingerprint digitalized. totalitarism ftw)
        2. Go into the so-called "dark room" (a classroom. elections are held in public schools, on sundays). Choose your candidate (touchscreen).
        3. Place your ballot in a special (idiot-proof) printer
        4. fold your b

    • And do not need to be replaced.

      OK we're all done here.

      Stop the luddite love. Of course voting machines can be made more efficient and more secure with modern technology. It's just that the people implementing them are criminals and the politicians buying them are corrupt. Take away the profit angle, add accountability with real consequences, with a oversight board with integrity, and we could have that great new system. As long as it is a money grab, we will continue to get crap.

      • by jd2112 (1535857)
        The problem with election reform is the people who have benefited from the current corrupt system are in charge of reforming it.
    • last time NYC wore out a bunch of tic-tic-tic-ka-WHANG! lever machines, they bought all of Fargo's. in the 80s. I suspect a plain ol' warehouse in Brooklyn has allowed those things to get a tad rusty inside by now. they'll end up voting on scraps of paper bags and dipping fingers in purple ink on the way out.

    • Horse-pulled carridges just work, and don't need to be replaced.

      • by aled (228417)

        Horse-pulled carridges just work, and don't need to be replaced.

        Indeed. Finally someone talking sense at Slashdot.

      • by ArhcAngel (247594)
        Where is badanalogyguy when you need him?

        The automobile replaced the horse drawn carriage because it was more efficient and eventually faster than said carriage. People gradually started relying more on the auto than the horse and the market tipped. Electronic voting machines aren't any faster and they have not proven to be any more efficient. The only real benefit is the instantaneous vote count but as others have pointed out that functionality could have been easily bolted on to existing machines?
    • here in the UK we cast our ballots on paper, they are now machine readable, but they can still be counted by hand if needs be. The nice part is that there is a paper trail so a shedload more reliable than those button push roulette-machines that the US seems to prefer.
  • electronic voteing makes it easier to cheat and cover it up.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:16PM (#43876473)
    You know, I redeploy fire regularly. It's a technology first developed in pre-history.
  • Before spending 95 million they should have leased 4 or 5 of the new machines and simulated a election sequence.

    • What? Why try stuff? That takes time! Think of the precious time you save by not trying out a cheap sample before commiting to a multi-million dollar contract! And it's electronic, it must be awesome! Besides, if something is wrong with it, it's the taxpayers' problem, not yours.

      Also, just for you, and only for the next two hours, I'll give you, not one, not two, not three, but a five percent discount on the 100 million something this nice usually costs. I'll even throw in a generous campaign contribution

    • Err, wait - why simulate something you've already done before, ad-nauseum? It's not like they're trying out some new and unproven technology here, or even a different set of use cases...

      • To see if the machines work properly, if they're fast enough/private enough, if they don't break down every 10 minutes, if their output is good, if there are any problems that only become evident once you place a bunch of volunteers in front them,...

        It seems that something did pop up, so the suggestion is warranted.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:18PM (#43876507) Homepage

    How much you wanna bet, there was some union worker who's been in the job for 20 years, and saw this coming? They saw it coming and said, "Rather than send them to the scrap yard, we're just gonna squirrel these babies away in this warehouse here," and rolled all those giant hunks of metal into storage in counties all over NY. I bet they got wrapped up, too.

    Gonna be a lot of nostalgic voters this election.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Now what if they forgot how to configure the voting machines? We could end up with La Guardia as mayor again!

  • This [nytimes.com] article explains the problems better.

    In still others, workers seemed flummoxed by procedures that accompanied the new equipment, especially for accepting ballots when the scanners did not function. At times the frustration boiled over, and there were shouting matches between voters and poll workers.

    At least some of the problems are caused by incompetent election officials. Perhaps that could work on reading comprehension?
    • by Minwee (522556)

      At times the frustration boiled over, and there were shouting matches between voters and poll workers.

      This is New York City. I think someone misspelled "shooting".

  • by Dareth (47614) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:35PM (#43876763)

    Louisiana sold its old lever voting machines to Mexico when it got the new "touch" voting machines.

    You would not believe how pissed off the Mexicans were when Edwin Edwards [wikipedia.org] was voted in as President of Mexico.

  • by Tom (822) on Friday May 31, 2013 @03:45PM (#43876895) Homepage Journal

    Ever since the US election system hit the international news in the first Bush election, the rest of the world has collectively been shaking its head and wondering why the US doesn't adopt the system that almost everyone else uses successfully: Paper and pens.

    Every argument against it has been solidly debunked.

    So what is it that feeds your fascination with deploying the most convoluted, crazy voting machines instead of using the more reliable machines you have in abundance - humans?

    • by amorsen (7485)

      The US tends to do lots of elections, which means that counting speed is more of a concern there than elsewhere. At the same time, community involvement in counting can be difficult to achieve uniformly across such a diverse country.

      Paper and pen is still superior of course, but it makes sense that the US is where they look for alternatives.

      Now if you could explain to me why the current Danish government goes "Oh shiny! Does it come with a 3D screen? When can we get them?" whenever anyone shows them an elec

      • by Tom (822)

        I call bullshit.

        Other countries are also diverse, and they manage to get it done. "Community involvement" is often low, but the political parties have an interest in watching each other, so there's pretty much a guarantee that enough volunteers will show up, if only to keep eyes on the other guys.

        I don't see a political reason to look for alternatives. I see some others that have to do with lobbying and money and other legalized forms of bribery.

    • the rest of the world has collectively been shaking its head and wondering why the US doesn't adopt the system that almost everyone else uses successfully: Paper and pens.

      A poster above said that in Canada (or at least his part of it) they use the "fill in the circle w/ a pencil", which is then electronically scanned. A paper trail is also kept for recounts. That's exactly the system used in New York. I live on Long Island, not the city, but we have the same voting machines and they work fine.

    • by steelfood (895457)

      Becaue Diebold *ahem* I mean Premier Election Solutions needs their payday too. Duh.

  • Like the subway system currently in NY also. Just like some mainframes, also. Fix something that needs fixing first.
  • RI went paper ballot over 30 years ago. All you do is mark up the ballot then feed it to the scanner. Couldn't be easier. The only time it gets interesting is when we have a ballot like that we had in the 2012 election. There was a federal, state, city, and then referendum ballot and they were printed on BOTH sides. That confused a lot of people.
    • Did Bloomberg decide to run again? Term limits can't stop him...

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Friday May 31, 2013 @05:19PM (#43877959)

    Don't be fooled: this is not the Slashdot story you think it is. Why do we all hate touch-screen voting? One, because it's hackable, but two, because it doesn't leave a paper trail that can be used for a recount.

    The electronic technology the city is using is a mark-on-paper, electronic scan system. It is, quite frankly, THE BEST electronic voting system ever designed: it's low-tech from the voter's side but fast on the officials' side. It has a zero-tech fallback in case of computer problems, and it allows manual recount of the actual ballots if necessary.

    Lever machines are THE WORST manual voting system ever designed. They're complicated and confusing for the user, and while they're fast for officals to read, there is no recount: they do not store individual voters' intentions, only the total of all voters who used them. Just as bad, they are very hackable (mechanically), and if they fail, it's often hard to tell and impossible to fix on election day. They are, in every respect, worse than the punch-card systems that made election technology an issue in the first place.

    Anybody who actually cares about election security should pick the optical scan system over the lever machine in a heartbeat. Why, then, are the voting officials complaining? Because they're worried that a recount would take too long with an optical scan system. The reason a recount would be faster with lever machines is BECAUSE THERE CAN BE NO RECOUNT. You just add up the totals on each machine, and you're done. But the true intentions of each voter are lost forever the moment they pull the lever and walk out of the booth.

    • True that. All of it. Ok, I'm out of things to say.
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      wait a second - that's how these lever machines work? you pull a lever and it increases a number on the machine and that's it?? surely it can't be so retarded??? tell me it ain't so and the level produces some kind of paper to submit ?

      who the fuck in their right mind would deploy such a system? I thought the lever systems referred to a machine that punches holes in some card, which while still retarded sounds a fuck ton more reasonable than voting with a one handed bandit.

      • that's how these lever machines work? you pull a lever and it increases a number on the machine and that's it?

        Yup.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_machine#Direct-recording_Voting_System [wikipedia.org]

        I guess New York really is mobster county.

        Just baffling that a country priding in democratic process would use such a system. like, MAYBE, possibly use such a system for deciding what's for lunch but for anything else... solves the recount "problem" nicely though.

      • by goodmanj (234846)

        wait a second - that's how these lever machines work? you pull a lever and it increases a number on the machine and that's it??

        Yup. It's just like a mechanical odometer, except it counts travesties of democracy instead of miles.

  • The only reason the US and in particular right now, New York City has issues with elections is because of corruption. No matter what system, there is always someone being paid off. As long as there is PORK flying around, you'll never get an honest election going.
  • In a last-ditch effort to avoid an electoral embarrassment...

    It's pretty much guaranteed that whoever NYC elects will be an embarrassment. Different voting technology won't help.

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