Voters, Not Machines, Should Elect Candidates

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Susan Lerner

December 16, 2010


Voters, Not Machines, Should Elect Candidates

Accuracy and reliability, not expediency, should be the

goal of counting votes, says good government watchdog Common Cause/NY.

Last evening, on the same day that it heard oral argument, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department held that it is more important to have a final count than an accurate count in the contested race for New York State Senate District 7. Challenger Jack Martins (R) currently leads incumbent Craig Johnson (D) by less than 500 votes based on the machine vote tally. Johnson lost an earlier petition calling for a full hand count of all ballots, arguing that the close margin and voting system errors discovered in the post election audit necessitated a manual vote count. A judge denied the petition on December 4th, prompting Johnson to appeal. A Martins victory will give the Republicans control of the New York State Senate raising the stakes of this election. While counsel representing both sides in this highly partisan battle argued for their respective candidates, we believe it is essential that the voice of New York voters be heard above all else.

“We are disappointed that the Court has chosen expediency over an accurate vote count in the most recent ruling in the Senate District 7 race,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Voters need to be sure that elections are decided on the basis of the votes cast and accurately counted, not on an approximation that ignores machine error rates. This case sets a poor precedent and contributes to an atmosphere that discourages New Yorkers from voting.”

Because this election marks the first statewide election held on paper ballot and optical scanners in New York State, it is important that New Yorkers have confidence that our voting system will accurately and faithfully represent the choice of the voters.

The race was very close with Martins winning by only 415 votes of 81,667 counted in the machine tally, giving him a margin of .5%. Moreover, of the seven machines audited in this particular race, three had errors – showing a difference between the electronic tally (the machine count) and the manual count and a machine error rate of 43%.

In an election in which the margin is this small and the error rate is this high, New Yorkers should not be forced to accept a possibly flawed election result for the sake of speed or convenience. New York wisely chose a system that records the voters’ intent plainly and permanently on paper ballots and made provisions in the election law that in the event of a counting error, the will of the people can always be determined by a hand count. A complete hand recount of this race would take only a few days and would eliminate any doubt that the machines may have miscounted. And it would serve the voters above all else.

Common Cause/ New York submitted a letter to the Appellate Division to argue the case for a full hand recount on behalf of the voters of New York. We are disappointed that Court failed to protect the voters’ interest and will of the people when deciding this case and hope that the ruling will be appealed.