Why can't New York City count votes?

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , New York Times
  • Updated: July 3, 2012 - 6:01 PM

The idea that poll workers are told to ignore the computers and do the arithmetic by hand is chillingly absurd.

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Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

Photo: Alex Brandon, Associated Press - Ap

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Voters in New York state use a vote-scanning system that can tally election-night votes swiftly and, in most cases, correctly. Not New York City. The city's Board of Elections uses a creaky system of counting by hand that is prone to embarrassing errors on election night.

On June 26, the board announced that Rep. Charles Rangel had won the Democratic primary in his newly drawn district by 1,900 votes. But in 79 of 506 precincts, the vote count was recorded as zero.

Then the board recounted, and Rangel led his nearest competitor, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, by 802 votes — with 2,000 absentee ballots or affidavits still to be counted.

In 2010, board officials "found" almost 200,000 votes a few weeks after the midterm election.

Everywhere else in the state, workers remove flash drives from the machines that scan ballots and take them to a central computer for counting. (Paper receipts produced by the machines are saved for recounts).

But New York City's patronage-addled Board of Elections and its staff seem more interested in protecting their jobs than avoiding errors. Poll workers print out the paper record from the scanning machines, which often include ballots from several election districts, so the workers cut the paper into sections and reorganize the pieces by district.

They add the district votes, write the totals on a sheet and give the sheet and the flash drive to a police officer who takes it to the central police station. There, the numbers are typed into computers for a final "unofficial tally." A few days later, the computer's tally becomes available.

We have long worried about the design and operation of electronic voting machines, but New York City produces a paper record that could be used for recounts or to resolve disputes. The idea that poll workers are told to ignore the computers and do the arithmetic by hand is chillingly absurd.

New York City has a state primary on Sept. 13 and the general election Nov. 6. It's time to stop the cut-and-add routine and let the computers do their job.
 

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