NYT: Excessive over votes recorded by electronic machines in New York results in thousands of lost votes

December 6, 2011
Sam Roberts
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-As many as 60,000 of the votes cast in New York State elections last year were voided because people unintentionally cast their ballots for more than one candidate, according to a study being released this week. The excess-voting was highest in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods, including two Bronx election districts where 40 percent of the votes for governor were disqualified.

-The study, by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, blamed software used with new electronic optical-scan voting machines as well as ambiguous instructions for disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters. The old mechanical lever-operated machines did not allow votes for more than one candidate for the same office.

The study, by Lawrence Norden, acting director of Brennan's Democracy Program, and Sundeep Iyer, a fellow with the program, estimated that 20,000 of the more than four million votes cast for governor were not counted and that as many as 40,000 votes were voided in other contests in New York State.

On that basis, the authors estimate that more than 100,000 votes could be disqualified in next year's presidential balloting, since more people will vote in the national election.

Responding to a lawsuit by the New York State conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the State Board of Elections has agreed to provide clearer instructions to voters using electronic machines, presumably in time for the 2012 election.

''If they can institute this by November 2012, the problem should be greatly alleviated, and it's a necessary step,'' Mr. Norden said. ''But the overvote protection is at the back end. Bad ballot design requirements are clearly a big cause of this, as is voter education.''

The study found that 32 percent of election districts in the Bronx had excess-vote rates of greater than 1 percent. So did 19 percent of election districts in Brooklyn, 14 percent in Queens, 12 percent in Manhattan and over 10 percent in Staten Island. The excess vote surpassed 5 percent in the South Bronx, in Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and in East Harlem in Manhattan.

The six election districts with the highest excess votes were at one polling place in the Bronx, Public School 65 on East 141st Street.

''Lost votes due to overvoting occurred far more frequently in areas with higher populations of low-income residents, people of color and immigrants,'' the report said. ''A well-functioning voting system, even one that includes optical scan equipment, should have overvote rates very close to zero.''