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Faulty NYC Scanner Misreads Votes, Earns Bronx Cheer

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[Image courtesy of visitingDC]

The news industry may be reeling, but there's still nothing quite like a newspaper on an outrage rampage ... and right now, the New York Daily News has got the City's election officials squarely in its sights.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Daily News' criticism of the "insane" method the City uses to count ballots. The not-so-subtle suggestion was that election administration in the Big Apple was in dire need of modernization.

Now, the Daily News has new fuel for frustration. A few months ago, I wrote about a report by the Brennan Center's Larry Norden and Sundeep Iyer that found an alarming number of lost votes - especially in one South Bronx polling place - due to apparent usability problems with the ballots.

New information suggests that usability may not have been the only issue. We'll let the Daily News take it from here -

More than six months ago, voting experts at New York University Law School's Brennan Center detected an alarming pattern at one polling place in the South Bronx:

The tallies from the electronic scanning machines at Public School 65 included high proportions of invalidated votes.

There were two possibilities: Either huge numbers of voters had improperly filled out their ballots, or at least one of the scanners had gone haywire. The board did nothing. Actually, the board did worse than nothing. It refused to check -- even when asked to do so by state election officials.

Using the Freedom of Information Law, this editorial page then demanded the right to inspect ballots cast at PS 65 in the 2010 primary and general elections -- the ones that put Gov. Cuomo into office.

The board complied, marking what may be the first time members of the public in New York State have been given permission to look over cast ballots and review how they were counted.

All too predictably, we discovered that voters had done their part correctly, while one of the three scanners at PS 65 misread and miscounted votes. Here are the disgraceful findings:

In the September primary, the scanner processed 103 ballots and made errors on 69 of them, a failure rate approaching 70%.

In the November general election, the scanner handled 289 ballots and misread votes on 156 of them, a 54% failure rate.

Amazingly, the paper found that the errors weren't even all of the same kind - some ballots were rejected as overvotes even though the voter had clearly marked only one choice, while others were counted for a candidate even though the voter had skipped the race.

Quite simply, that's remarkable - and not in a good way; false negatives and false positives on the same machine on the same ballot in the same election. Something went very, very wrong in that precinct in 2010 - and assurances from the board and its vendor that the machines were tested in advance ring very hollow when taking even a cursory look at the evidence.

Even worse, the election board seems to have been profoundly un-curious as to what occurred, resisting entreaties to go back and check until hit with a FOIA request, which even then required someone else to do the work.

I don't know enough about City politics to assess the validity of the Daily News' assertion that the Board of Elections is a "patronage-ridden cesspool," but I do know - based on the board's stupefying inaction in the face of this data and pleas to do something about it - that New York's Board of Elections is in dire need of improvement.

Something tells me that the Daily News will be making the same case - at much higher volume - in the days, weeks and months ahead.

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