In USA v. New York State Board of Elections, et al. (US District Court,Northern District of NY, Civil Action No. 06-CV-0263) Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorney Brian Heffernan argues that even though no electronic voting systems exist that meet NY’s voting technology standards, NY must use the faulty technology.

The right to vote, as well as the principle of “one person, one vote,” are cornerstones of our democracy. The anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights movements as well as the expansion of voting to young people are all part of the history of voting rights in this country. Equally fundamental is the assurance that each voter knows that her or his vote counts and is counted as intended. At this time in our history, many have lost confidence in our voting system. This confidence must be restored.

 Last year, I observed five hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections: three in Massachusetts, one in Vermont and one in Maine. All five hand-countings of the paper ballots were conducted smoothly, without any hassles and were finished in a timely manner. Although HCPB do not address the egregious suppression of the vote, coupling the elimination of this suppression with HCPB is the only way we will have fair, honest, transparent elections.

In Acton, Maine, in the General Election on November 7, 2006, I observed six teams of two counters each, hand-count paper ballots. Each team was made up of a Republican and a Democrat. Not only did each team hand-count the paper ballots, but also they immediately audited the hand-count. That is, they did a second hand-count immediately after the first hand-count. With seven races and two initiatives, the six teams of two people each were able to hand-count twice 944 ballots in four hours.

An ideal HCPB election would have these essential components: The counting process happens at each precinct immediately after the polls close. Each ballot is hand-counted by registered voters from that precinct in full view of other registered voters from that precinct. Each team of counters is made up of minimally a Republican and Democrat, but better to have each party on the ballot be on a counting and observing team. The counting process is videotaped. Results are posted at each precinct, immediately after the counting. A chain of custody of the ballots and ballot boxes is specified. Ballot boxes are observed and videotaped as they are opened and closed and move from place to place.

Let’s say in our HCPB elections, we pay each hand-counter $18/hour – a decent wage for the most important job in preserving our democracy. Let’s say in each precinct of 1000 voters, we use twenty counters, ten teams of two counters each. Let’s say we pay them for six hours. That comes to $2160.00 for the cost of the hand-counters on election night. It also keeps the money in the community.

Electronic voting machines cost thousands of dollars to buy, and then there is the maintenance and replacement. States have paid millions of dollars to privatized voting machine companies to buy both DRE’s (touch screens or direct recording electronic) and optical scan voting machines (op scans or opti scans). Both DRE’s and optical scans are electronic voting machines. And although op scan electronic voting machines use paper ballots, these ballots are counted by machines. Both DRE’s and optical scan electronic voting machines have been publicly hacked. It is way past time to get rid of these electronic voting machines entirely, never mind by-passing New York State Law to buy them.

Sheila Parks, Ed.D., is an Organizing Consultant who lives in Boston, MA. She is a long time feminist and peace & justice activist/organizer on many issues and has been involved in the current wave of voting rights for five years.