Statement By Attorney General Eliot Spitzer Regarding The Critical Need For An Improved Voting System In New York

A new, independent study of elections has found that New York State is one of the ten worst states in the nation when it comes to lost votes.

The study by a team of engineers and scientists from CalTech and MIT found that people in some regions of New York lose their votes at a rate that is twice the national average due to equipment and polling place problems. This national study was reported earlier in the week, but no one, so far, has taken note of its implications and observations regarding New York State.

This study indicates that voting problems in some areas of New York City are significantly worse than those in the state of Florida. In the Bronx, for example, the so-called residual vote (a calculation of uncounted, unmarked or spoiled ballots) was 4.7 percent. The rate in Florida - site of notorious problems in the presidential election of 2000 - was 2.9 percent. The study concluded that votes are lost because of ballot problems, inaccurate voter registration data, inadequate voter assistance, or other poor polling place practices.

This study confirms, quantifies and underscores the earlier findings of my office. Our report, "Voting Matters in New York: Participation, Choice, Action Integrity," made seven key recommendations designed to improve equipment and expand accessibility. (See attached.) The Cal Tech-MIT Voting Technology Project report supports each of these key reforms.

However, time is running out to enact changes. The New York City mayoral contest is less than 60 days away. If voting problems in New York City are not addressed immediately, equipment malfunctions and polling place problems could compromise an expected close election.

My hope is that the findings of this latest study, combined with my office's work, will give state and federal legislators the incentive to make serious investments in voting technology, poll workers and election infrastructure that will ensure the integrity of upcoming elections.

Without such investment, New Yorkers could face an election debacle that could make Florida's experience seem mild by comparison.

SELECTED FINDINGS OF THE CAL TECH-MIT STUDY
  • "Some cities, including ... New York, had rates of unmarked, uncounted and spoiled ballots well in excess of the state of Florida." (Page 17)
  • New York's largest counties show wide variations in vote count reliability. (Page 90)
County Percent
Bronx 4.7
Kings
4.0
Queens 3.5
New York 3.2
Westchester 1.9
Erie 1.7
Nassau 1.2
Suffolk 0.7
  • "In New York ... the residual vote rate in 2000 for absentee ballots among a sample of counties was 4.4 percent, compared to the residual vote rate in those counties of 0.9 percent on the in-precinct lever machines." (Page 40)
  • New York ranked 30th out of 40 states (10 states were not included due to insufficient data) in its statewide residual vote average (Page 89)

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Attorney General Spitzer's report on election reform can be accessed at: http://www.ag.ny.gov/.


KEY SPITZER RECOMMENDATIONS SUPPORTED BY THE MIT/CAL TECH STUDY
  • Computerize voter registration data. The Spitzer report calls for establishing a statewide computer registration list and enabling poll workers to access it onsite to respond to voter eligibility problems.
  • Upgrade voting machines. The Spitzer report calls for repairing and upgrading existing machines; phasing-out of punch card ballots and greater use of optical scanners for paper ballots; testing of machines on which the full ballot face does not appear, and increasing funding to purchase voting machines.
  • Improve accessibility at polls for disabled and non-English speakers. The Spitzer report calls for creating an Accessibility Fund to assist localities in upgrading polling places, providing for accessible voting technology, and training of boards of elections in making sites accessible.
  • Improve training of poll workers. The Spitzer report calls for increasing compensation and training for poll workers on an annual basis, recruiting workers at high schools and other nontraditional places, and implementing flexible working hours.
  • Expand oversight of absentee voting. The Spitzer report calls for instituting special oversight of absentee voting at nursing homes and similar institutions and limiting use of authorized agents in distributing absentee ballots.
  • Enhance voter education. The Spitzer report calls for creating voter guides and a Voter's Bill of Rights, posting education and voter information on the Internet.


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