Primary education: Levers and other lessons

Tuesday was primary day in many states including Connecticut and New York.  There are several election integrity lessons to be learned or learned again.

Let us start with New York City which had nationally prominent  primarys for Mayor and Controller. The real voting integrity issue was the use of lever machines in an illogical rejection optical scanners. The levers were brought back, justified on the claim that it would be too difficult to reprogram and test optical scanners if a run-off primary was required, ignoring that many more lever machines would have to be individually programmed and tested. The winner is clear, yet it is a close call if the winner has reached the 40% threshold to avoid a run-off.

Some lessons:

  • Switching technologies, expect glitches and media hype of glitches: New York Times, At Polls return of Levers Brings Problems and Praise <read> We saw this in Connecticut when we switched to optical scan in 2007 and watched NY go through the same thing.
  • Levers are like touch screens in that there is no voter verified paper record, that is why they should be avoided. Maybe New Yorkers will learn this again as they attempt to determine if a run-off is necessary and find some lever machines that did not work correctly, with no recourse to determine the actual votes.
  • Long lines. Like touch screens, levers require enough working machines to serve voters as they arrive. Optical scan alone is not a panacea, yet the machines can handle high volume, while paper ballots can be completed and submitted even when scanners breakdown.
  • Polls help yet have limits in increasing confidence. We can be pretty sure of the leader in the Mayors race as everyone expected him to win, based on polls consistent with the result. Yet polls have limits in close races, since they cannot eliminate fraud and error in very close results, like this run-off uncertainty.

Closer to  home we have Bridgeport, where there have been charges of absentee ballot fraud in a highly charged and important Board of Education Primary which featured a party-endorsed, outside financed, slate against an alternative slate. Previously the Mayor worked to have the Board taken over, when that was ruled illegal, he supported and initiative to replace it with an appointed Board. The appointed Board change was defeated in a previous vote, despite large outside expenditures in favor of an appointed board. Those same forces on both sides were arrayed in this primary. There were and are charges of absentee ballot fraud. In the end, the alternative slate won by a two to one margin, with likely success in November changingthe balance on the Board and likely significant education changes for the city.

Some lessons:

  • Once again we have votING fraud alleged. Looking at recent news we see a constant stream of charged and confirmed  cases of votING fraud, by insiders and outsiders, primarily by absentee ballot. Beware of no-excuse and other forms of mail-in voting.
  • Also looking at that same recent news we see cases where huge searches for alleged individual votER fraud have confirmed that it is all but non-existent. Voter-ID laws are almost entirely voter suppression in effect.
  • We can likely be confident in the result without polling. The outsiders won by a large margin, consistent with their past victory over eliminating the elected Board.
  • But, what it was close overall, and the absentee vote was decisive? What if the insiders won in those circumstances? And the fact is that the absentee count favored the insider slate. Confidence and integrity would likely and justifiably be in question.
  • So, those charges should not be dropped. They should be investigated, and to  the extent possible confirmed or refuted.
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