Hoffman Loses; Turns to Fanning Voting Machine Paranoia

Conspiracy theories: a good reason not to put Glenn Beck's candidates in the national spotlight.

With  3,072 ballots left uncounted, Owens still leads — by 3,105 votes. Odds for Hoffman’s victory have moved from 1% down to 0%.

However, Hoffman looks to be gearing up to challenge the election results, linking from his website to an article in the Gouverneur Times, which suggests that voting machines were either infected with a virus or, due to the presence of USB ports, capable of hijacking on-site. Although the Watertown Daily Times has already partially debunked these rumors, they deserve a second treatment, for clarity’s sake.

Counties in New York currently use one of four voting machines — either Shoup or AVM “Lever” machines (collectively, “levers”), or one of two optical scanners, the Sequoia ImageCast, and the ES&S DS200. The latter are required by federal law — when, in 2005, New York accepted money pursuant to the Help America Vote Act, it committed to abandoning its lever machines, but the state substantially failed to implement HAVA until recently (read more here). This year, as part of a “pilot program,” 46 New York counties deployed optical scanners for their primary and general elections, including all counties in the 23rd Congressional district except Clinton, Essex, and part of Oneida. All NY-23 counties participating in the pilot program use the Sequoia ImageCast.

It’s true that many of the counties experienced, at some point in time, problems with their Sequoia machines. But no problems persisted through election day. Here’s how we know. Because their deployment is at this time experimental, electronic voting machines are governed by strict proposed regulations, treated as effective for the purposes of the pilot program. These procedures require that commissioners confirm the accuracy of all of their machines’ logic with a “test deck” of ballots FOUR TIMES (before and after their deployment, and before and after canvassing) (§ 6209). Any “virus” would be caught instantly, and any that slipped through the cracks would be caught by another regulation that escalates the statutory 3% audit requirement (N.Y. Elec. Law § 9-211) to a much higher level, and provides for further escalation if problems are encountered (§ 6210). So much for viruses.

Concerns about electronic “hacking” or ballot tampering are similarly misplaced, because both would have to happen to defeat audit/test deck procedures, and neither can happen. Even if Sequoia machines do have a USB port (I’ve never seen one), the machines go from locked facilities at the County Board, where they’re under bipartisan lock & key, to a polling site where they’re in public view, and then back to the bipartisan County Board. Tampering would have to be sanctioned by both Republican and Democratic election commissioners, and then overlooked by campaign observers, who are permitted and encouraged to be present at canvassing. Chain of custody procedures for paper ballots, if separated from their machines, are even more rigorous (§ 6210.11).

Further, much like a Battlestar, voting machines are NEVER NETWORKED. EVER. Voting cards are programmed by an Election Management System subject to the same lock & key procedures, and bereft of any internet connectivity software or hardware.

All of this is to say Hoffman enters any prospective recount with the burden of proof stacked against him. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you see an election commissioner worry, then worry. But even the conspiratorial Gouverneur Times notes that the commissioners aren’t on their side — though they mask their lack of evidence with weasel words (“Republican Commissioner Judith Peck refused to speculate…”). For shame, Gouverneur Times — the press shouldn’t be in the business of spreading paranoia, or feeding the rumors of a madman.

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