BO LIPARI:  How New Yorkers Can Ensure That Our Paper Ballots Are All Counted This Fall!



Software engineer Bo Lipari, founder of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, spoke at the Riverfront Library in Yonkers on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010, about the remaining issues with voting and vote counting in New York State this fall now that we have won paper ballots.  Our ballots will be counted by optical scanning machines that still present some problems.


The following are the most urgent issues about which to warn voters to increase the likelihood that their votes will count.  District and ward leaders, church and community leaders take note–you might want to begin sharing these points with your constituents while petitioning and at upcoming community meetings and events:


1)  You must mark your ballot in pen, NOT IN PENCIL, or your vote will not be counted.  (Special marking pens will be supplied at the polls in counties such as Westchester using ImageCast voting systems, according to ImageCast’s videos on


2)  Completely filling in the tiny outlined ovals or squares next to the names of your chosen candidates is the best way to mark your ballots for the machine to count your vote, but an X or a check mark is also supposed to be counted.  Just be sure your mark falls inside the oval or square. 


3)   There will not be curtains behind the “privacy stations” where you will be marking your ballots, so use your body to hide your vote or ask a poll worker to seat you at a privacy station with your back to the wall to mark your ballot; you are entitled to a secret ballot.  When you are ready to cast your vote, be sure to place your ballot in the “privacy sleeve” the poll workers should give you along with your ballot to protect its secrecy while you walk across the room to deposit it in the ballot box; the machine is designed to grab the ballot from its privacy sleeve and pull it inside.


4)  Your ballot has two sides.  Vote for candidates and propositions ON THE BACK OF THE BALLOT, too.


5)    If you make a mistake in marking your ballot, do NOT try to erase:  go ask the poll worker for a new ballot.  However, you can only spoil two ballots, no one will be given more than three, so be careful!  Decide on your vote before marking the ballot, and review your ballot carefully!  Be especially careful not to vote for too many candidates for any one office.  Once you are absolutely certain you have voted correctly, you will vote by inserting the ballot in the machine and pressing the green “CAST” button.   Hitting the green button is like pulling the curtain on the lever machine:  once you hit it, there is no changing your mind.


6)  BE CAREFUL not to vote for more candidates for each office than is allowed: the ballot will say, “vote for only two,” for example for certain judgeships, or “vote for only one” for governor or legislator.  It is called an OVERVOTE if you vote for more than the allowed number of candidates for an office, or if you vote both yes and no for a proposition.   If you do vote for too many candidates by mistake, the machine will give you an OVERVOTE WARNING.  If you get an OVERVOTE warningPRESS THE RED “RETURN” BUTTON TO GET YOUR BALLOT BACK, then go ask for another ballot and fill it in correctly.  Unlike the old lever machines, you CAN walk away from the ballot box in the middle of submitting your ballot without losing your vote, as long as you’ve had the machine return your ballot.  If you press the GREEN “Cast” button AFTER AN OVERVOTE, the machine will accept your ballot–but your vote for that office or proposition will NOT be counted.  Once you press the green button, the machine stores and counts your ballot and YOU CANNOT GET IT BACK. 


7)  People can check out the machines on which they will be voting online at  Click on your county (e.g. “Westchester”) on the drop-down menu and educational videos for the voting machines you will be using will appear. 


8)  Disabled people must inform poll workers before they vote if they need special ballot marking devices, and if they want the machine to provide them with an audio or visual ballot review before they cast their vote.



The following are the most urgent issues about which to pressure local Boards of Elections immediately, this summer, before the September primaries, and the legislature later to correct issues for which there is no time in this election:


1)  Ask the Board of Elections how complaints about lack of privacy in the recent “trial run” elections will be addressed.  “Privacy booths” should line the walls or curtained ‘privacy corridors” and face outward, with the open side against the wall or curtain, so people marking their ballots don’t have to use their bodies to screen ballots from passersby.  Ask how many “privacy sleeves” will be allotted to each precinct.  No one should have to walk across a room carrying an unshielded, two-sided ballot.  Ask whether poll workers are being properly educated to set up the polling places for privacy, and to give everyone privacy sleeves and be sure the voters use them to protect the privacy of their vote.   


2)  Ask the Board of Elections how many optical scanners there will be in each precinct.     Be sure they are not expecting too many people to vote on one scanner or long lines will discourage voters.  (From experience in past elections around the country, this is especially likely to be an issue in majority-minority districts.)


3)  Ask the Board of Elections how many marking pens will be supplied per precinct and how people will be prevented from walking off with them.  How do they plan to insure that there will be enough marking pens, ballots and privacy sleeves for everyone to vote, and vote in privacy?


4)  Ask the Board of Elections and local newspapers, TV and radio stations to publicize the educational video site. 


5)  Ask the Board of Elections to provide voter-education forums and bring the voting machines and technicians to familiarize the public with the new vote technology this summer at libraries, union halls, YWCA’s, schools and other polling places ahead of time so voters are very familiar with the new machines by the time they vote. 


6)  Ask Board of Elections how they plan to educate the public to mark both sides of the ballot.  Are poll workers being educated to remind people to vote on both sides?


7)  There are two key issues the legislature should change immediately, before the election.  Any citizen should be allowed to request a full hand recount of the paper ballots, not just candidates:  after all, it is OUR voting rights and OUR election, not the candidates’.  And, after 3% of the ballots are automatically, randomly reviewed by comparing the hand count with the machine count, if inaccuracies are detected, there should be a requirement automatically to escalate the number of ballots evaluated.   Otherwise, what’s the point of finding out about the inaccuracies, and how would any systematic, programmed errors ever be detected?   The expense of recounts should not be an issue:  vote counting integrity should be looked at as a national security issue:  our very government and Constitution are at stake if the voters are not sovereign.


8)  Immediately after this election and well before the next one, the legislature should correct the way the machines deal with overvotes.  Overvoted ballots, like unmarked ballots, should be immediately rejected by the voting machines, as per the recent request of the Brennan Center for Justice.  Voters should be prevented from wasting their vote by overvoting, as they were on the old lever machines.  Unfortunately, it is too late to start rewriting computer code and retesting all the software now, according to Mr Lipari.  This is a serious flaw in the vote-counting procedure and appears designed to invite ballot-wasting by less well educated voters. 


9)  The ballots should also be redesigned so they are one-sided, not two-sided, so people will more easily vote for all candidates and propositions.