Report: Thousands of votes thrown out in gubernatorial election...and it could happen again
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 1/5/2012, 10:30 a.m.
The same technical problems that caused thousands of votes to be thrown out last year in New York may invalidate 100,000 votes next year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
A report by Larry Norden and Sundeep Iyer of the Democracy Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice states that Black and Latino voters, as well as voters in predominantly low-income and/or immigrant communities, were almost two times as likely to have their votes discounted due to "overvoting" than whites. Overvoting is when the ballot registers more than one candidate selected.
According to the report, New York's optical scan machines, which were used in the 2010 gubernatorial election for the first time, mistakenly read 20,000 votes as overvotes and almost 60,000 votes were lost in other elections. For example, in two different elections in Bronx districts, almost 40 percent of the votes in the gubernatorial election were discounted as overvotes. Out of the five boroughs, Staten Island has the lowest rate of overvotes.
"Lost votes due to overvoting occurred far more frequently in areas with higher populations of low-income residents, people of color and immigrants," according to the report. "Black and Hispanic voters were at least twice as likely to lose votes due to overvoting as non-Hispanic whites. Shockingly, in two Bronx election districts, nearly 40 percent of the votes cast for governor were voided as overvotes."
"In modern history, New York has never seen so many lost votes due to overvoting," continued the report's summary. Unlike the new optical scan voting system, New York's old lever machines did not allow overvoting. Regardless, the numbers of lost votes due to overvoting in 2010 were far greater than they should have been. Overvotes are almost always unintentional. A well-functioning voting system, even one that includes optical scan equipment, should have overvote rates very close to zero.
According to the report, data provided by New York City showed that the six election districts with the highest overvote rates were all in one polling place-P.S. 65 on 677 E. 141st St. in the South Bronx. In two of these election districts, more than one in three votes for governor were lost because of overvoting. "No other polling location in New York City had a total overvote rate that was even half as high as the rate at this location," the report said. In that particular neighborhood, 73.7 percent of the population is Latino and 22.8 percent is Black.
The New York State Board of Elections is hoping to put an end to the confusion. The organization agreed to adopt a better overvote warning when a voting machine cannot discern the intent of the voter in time for the November 2012 elections. The warning would inform the voter of the problem by stating things like "you have filled in too many ovals" and clearly explain the consequences of casting an overvote by stating "your vote will not count."
However, Norden and Iyer say that more needs to be done. This includes requiring boards of elections to publish precinct-level election results, which according to them, could improve detection and correction of machine-related problems.