BROOKLYN (CN) – The NAACP claims that city and state officials approved electronic voting machines configured so that “tens of thousands of votes will be needlessly lost in this fall’s [primary] elections,” and that racial and language minorities will particularly suffer from disenfranchisement.
New York is changing from lever machines to computerized systems to conform with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which Congress enacted in response to the “debacle of 2000 presidential election in Florida,” according to the federal complaint.
But the plaintiffs say the defendant state and city elections boards and officials ignored one of the lessons of the “debacle,” by failing to program the computerized machines to discourage “over-voting.”
“Over-voting” involves submitting a ballot that chooses more than one candidate, invalidating the vote.
Plaintiffs include the NAACP New York State Conference, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE), The Working Families Party and three people affiliated with these organizations.
They claim that the voting systems the state approved – Dominion ImageCast and ES&S DS200 – are configured to send “the same confusing message” that flashed to Floridians who overvoted in 2000.
Even the election officials who approved the programming have acknowledged that the new machines’ overvote messages are baffling, the plaintiffs say.
“Specifically, at a State Board meeting on February 18, 2010, Commissioners Aquilah and Peterson both stated that they believed most voters would not understand the message,” according to the complaint.
But the state has refused to use “built-in protections against overvotes that are made available by the machines’ manufacturers and used by many jurisdictions outside of New York,” the plaintiffs say.
In Florida, counties that used these protections “had overvote rates close to zero for all voters,” while those whose machines configured as New York’s are lost 8,791 votes, the complaint states.
The irregularities particularly affected racial and language minority voters.
“On average in the four counties, the overvote rate for African-American voters was approximately five times that for White voters, and the overvote rate for Latino voters was almost three times that for White voters,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs say that the lever machines that New York has used for more than a century had an “interlock” system that made overvotes “impossible.”
“If a voter selected more than the permitted number of candidates for a given contest, the lever would lock, and the machine simply would not allow the voter to pull the lever and cast her ballot until she had reduced the number of votes in the contest to the permitted number,” the complaint states.
Since the “confusing” display message is a programming flow, not a mechanical one, “Defendants could easily set their voting machines to provide overvote protections used in other jurisdictions, thereby eliminating racial disparity in overvoting and bringing their election day overvote rates to zero, or close to it.”
The plaintiffs sued the New York State and New York City Board of Elections and their commissioners, alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act.
They seek declaratory judgment and an injunction preventing state and city officials from using the machines in their current configuration.
They are represented by Joshua Block with Jenner & Block.