Limiting over-votes in New York state

Apologies for being a little late on this one, but it is worth linking. As New York begins to move from older voting technology (lever machines) to modern optical-scan machines, NYU’s Brennan Center is drawing attention to a potential programming problem:

Under the new system voters will fill out a paper ballot and then “scan” them into an electronic machine. The State and City Boards have set up the new machines so that they do not give voters adequate warning of “overvotes”– ballots that cannot be read in full because the machine reads the ballot as having too many votes for a particular contest. Instead of returning the ballot, as is done in many other jurisdictions, in New York the ballot will be retained, and a computer screen with present the voter with a confusing message that includes a green “cast” button. Voters are not told that if they press the green button, their vote will not count.

What’s striking about this problem is that it is easily avoidable. Election jurisdictions are able to control whether the machine “warns” voters, or not. It’s an question of programming, not a technological limitation. Indeed, the Center notes:

The only other time these voting machines have been used in the same way in a major election (13 counties in Florida in 2008), they produced overvote rates almost 14 times higher than expected, with thousands of votes for the presidential contest rejected – in comparison to almost no votes rejected in the 36 counties that automatically returned the ballots.