E-voting in New York: So far, so good

Primary election e-voting problems that Mayor Bloomberg called 'a royal screw up' appear to be fixed

Voting in New York City today appears to be a far smoother process than last month's primaries when problems with e-voting machines and poll workers that lacked training to use them led to delays in opening some polling sites and confusion at others.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was widely quoted as calling the primary day e-voting problems a 'royal screwup.'

In this election, Bloomberg is asking city residents to report via the Twitter social network any problems they encounter with the city's new electronic voting system.

The city has set up a dedicated response team to monitor and respond to information posted on Twitter with the hashtag #nycvotes. A quick scan of tweets containing the hashtag this afternoon appeared to indicated no major issues yet.

"Right now, I'd say [voting] is going relatively smoothly," Bo Lipari, founder of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, said today.

There have been a few reports of machines not starting up or being inoperable, but technicians have been dispatched quickly to address such issues, he said.

Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, an election watchdog group said that her organization has received some reports of polling places not opening on time or equipment problems due to minor issues like missing extension cords. But overall, "things seem to be better than in the primary," Smith said.

New York was one of the last states in the country to adopt systems that are compliant with the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. The act was passed in response to voting issues, electronic and otherwise, in the 2000 presidential elections. The statute requires that all states replace mechanical voting systems with electronic machines that can maintain a paper record of every vote cast.

Last month's New York primary election marked the first time that the new e-voting systems were used in the state. The new systems., which replaced old mechanical voting systems, require that voters mark paper ballots and then insert them into optical scanners. The new systems were not tested prior to the primary election.

E-voting systems caused some problems statewide during the primary, but New York City was hardest hit by far. The problems prevented some polling sites from opening for up to four hours after the scheduled start. Problems ranged from inoperable scanners to the generation of random error messages.

Lessons learned from that experience prompted several moves by officials, said Valerie Vasquez, a spokeswoman for The Board of Elections in the City of New York. For instance, the city provided training sessions for some 36,000 poll workers"to better prepare them to play a leadership role at their poll sites on Election Day," she said in an e-mail to Computerworld.

The training stressed the need to open poll sites quickly and to ensure voter privacy by making sleeves available to all voters. Poll site coordinators were instructed not to handle marked ballots unless they were specifically requested to do so by a voter.

In addition, the city also recruited poll workers from local colleges, universities and community groups, she said. Borough call center processes have also been revamped to ensure faster resolution of issues reported from poll sites.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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