New York Women's Bar Association, September 2003
Testimony On New Voting Machines
On July 10, 2003 NYWBA member Teresa Hommel testified before
the NYS Task Force on the Implementation of the Help America Vote Act. Her helpful article on HAVA appears on page
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. My expertise is in computers, and my
comments deal with issues concerning the use of Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines.
The need for a voter-verifiable paper trail.
All computers are inherently subject to programming errors, equipment malfunction, and malicious tampering. Computer
professionals know this, but we aren't the only ones.
Casual users of computers also know that computers don't work right all the time. Ask yourself, how often does your
PC crash? or lock? or lose a document?
The same kinds of problems have already occurred with DRE voting machines in various states around our country. We
would be prudent to be forewarned by those experiences, and not duplicate them. That is why we need a voter-verifiable paper
trail of each ballot cast. Without it, there is no way to count the votes when the computer malfunctions.
Banks give paper receipts, cash registers do, ATM machines do, even gas pumps give paper receipts. There are computer
kiosks at train stations to sell tickets on paper, and at airports to print boarding passes. Printing receipts is not a big
deal. But without those voter-verifiable pieces of paper from DRE voting machines, when election results are challenged, a
recount is not possible.
Democracy can't survive if we let an anonymous bunch of people count our votes in secret behind closed doors. A computer
is the same as that bunch of people. American citizens should not be forced to accept the results of a computer in running
To bring home what I am talking about, I have turned my laptop into a little voting machine. The software works two
ways, either to "test the machine," or to run a "real election." When you test the machine, you will get an accurate count.
But when you run a "real election," if any votes are cast, Mary Smith will always win
over John Doe. [This software is now on the internet at www.wheresthepaper.org --Ed.]
In this demonstration, you can see what is going on. But if the individual votes were being cast in private, in voting
booths, how would anyone know that the total counts and the authentic looking, post-election audit trail were corrupt?
need for computerized voting machines to go through at least the same security procedures and testing that computer systems
go through before they are put into production in business and industry.
Purchasing new computer equipment is a "buyer-beware" situation. That is why in business, companies do exhaustive testing
of computer systems before they "go live" in production. The old system and the new one run in parallel for at least one complete
accounting cycle, so the results of the old system and the new one can be compared. Businesses that rely on computers know
that if they get the wrong results, they could go out of business.
But around our great country, we see voting and elections treated with shocking disrespect. When corruption of the results
occurs, the public is supposed to accept the results anyway. This is wrong.
If we're going to get DRE voting machines, these machines should be subject to the same security testing as computers
that are used in business and industry. Security means not only that there are no hackers in the system, but also that the
results of normal operation are correct. We should not rely on new systems until they are shown to work, and they consistently
provide a voter-verifiable paper trail by which their accurate operation can be continuously spot-checked and verified--even
when there is no challenge to election results. My bank sends me a statement every month, even when I don't challenge their
need for adequate remedies when computerized voting machines do not work properly, and election results are corrupted.
I hope that we can learn from the experience of other states where DRE voting machines have malfunctioned, and where
election results were challenged but there was no paper trail to verify the results. I hope that we don't have to duplicate
As an American citizen, I am outraged to see our democracy and elections being treated like worthless formalities.
I suggest that New York State require companies that sell equipment to us to post bonds, and if elections are corrupted due to malfunction of equipment,
these companies should pay the cost of holding a new election.
the machines work and provide the voter-verifiable paper trail to prove it, or we shouldn't use them, and the company that
gets our money has to take responsibility.
The need for accessibility of voting machines.
The disabled community has been working for years to get accessible voting machines so that they can vote in private,
without the need for assistance, so they can have the secret ballot that every eligible
voter is supposed to have.
With the amount of money that the Help America Vote Act has allocated, we should be able to afford voting machines
that are accessible as well as secure, machines that provide BOTH accessibility and a voter-verifiable physical record of
There shouldn't be any financial or technological excuse for saying
it can't be done.