CM Gale Brewer & Good Government Groups Rally Against Return of Lever Voting Machines for Run-Off Election

The collective failure to act by the NYC Board of Elections and the NYS Legislature is the real problem, good government groups call on Assembly and Governor to reject return to 19th Century

NEW YORK, NY (05/31/2013)(readMedia)-- Good government groups and City Council Member Gale Brewer today called on the State Legislature and the New York City Board of Elections to protect the integrity of the votes cast by New Yorkers by using paper ballots for the City primary and any run-off election this fall. The advocates warned that bringing back the antiquated, cumbersome, and unverifiable lever machines was no solution to the problem created by the Legislature's refusal to set the primary in June and would just make a bad situation worse.

A bill, S.4088-B (Golden/No Number Yet in the Assembly), has passed the Senate and the Assembly is seriously considering returning to lever machines.

Advocates, elected officials and the Board of Elections itself have been warning for at least a year that the City primary in September, followed two weeks later by any required run-off election, would make it very difficult for the Board to administer the runoff. The schedule set by the Legislature continues to make it nearly impossible for members of the armed forces serving overseas their right to vote in the run-off.

Lever machines are inadequate to handle a run off election for two key reasons:

  • They have 28,000 moving parts and break down constantly, with replacement parts limited, making them unreliable
  • They can not be audited which is a violation of the spirit of Help America Vote Act (HAVA)

The new technology is perfectly up to the task to administer the runoff as experts have acknowledged. It is the Board's continued unwillingness to get up to speed with modern technology which is truly at issue.

The groups stated their unified opposition to any move to allow New York City to use lever voting machines for all non-federal elections, including the upcoming primary, run-off and general elections this fall.


  1. Move the run-off date from September 24th to October 1st, providing more time to print any run-off ballots and avoiding a conflict with the Jewish holiday Sukkot and.
  2. Use the optical scanning machines: the Board's own contingency plans announced in February include using a streamlined procedure to set up and test the optical scanning equipment that reads and counts the paper ballots. The method would be preferable to the lever machines.
  3. Adjust the recount procedure to accommodate the short time between the primary and any run-off using high speed scanners to sort problematic ballots for examination instead of a manual recount of every ballot.

"The use of lever voting machines for the 2013 elections would be a disaster of the first magnitude. The antiquated machines have high breakdown rates, are inaccessible for the disabled, and provide no auditable paper trail. The Board of Elections is rightfully concerned about their ability to conduct a successful runoff election in the two week period currently proscribed on the election calendar. However, the answer to this problem is not a reversion to old technology, but rather to pass legislation in Albany to extend the run-off by an additional week, and to work with the State Board of Elections on streamlining testing and preparatory procedures. I am committed to working with the City and State BOE, my colleagues in government, and the advocacy community to make sure we can conduct an accurate, technologically sound election cycle in 2013. New York City can and will meet these challenges, but we must do so by moving forwards in our election administration, not backwards," said Councilmember Gale Brewer, Chair of the City Council Committee on Governmental Operations.

"There were two easy, smart solutions here: implement same-day or 'instant-runoff' voting so we can scrap the need for a costly follow-up runoff altogether, or move up the primary calendar and give ourselves more lead-time to hold a runoff. This being New York, of course, Mayor Bloomberg and the Senate majority have refused to pursue either, and instead want to bring back long-discontinued machines that don't generate a paper trail, and that we probably don't have the resources or expertise to properly manage, maintain, and repair anymore," said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), a member of the Senate Elections Committee. "Maybe this worked in the mayor's and the Board of Elections' fantasies, but I don't think it will work on Election Day. I urge the Assembly leadership to insist on a more sensible solution, rather than trading one chaotic election nightmare for another."

"Going back to the old lever machines will disenfranchise many voters with disabilities and others who find the type size, levers and voting information impossible to access. This step backward will only serve to increase voters' confusion about their options for voting, it will keep us from moving toward fully inclusive democratic elections and discourage people from getting used to the new machines. It will also make it difficult for those of us who need accessibility to participate in our local elections. This is wrong headed and a bad precedent for New York." said Margi Trapani, Communications and Education Director at Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY.

"This situation is an artificial and unnecessary crisis created by the Legislature's failure to set a reasonable timetable for the primary and run-off elections, which leaves City residents to choose among options that range from bad to worse to terrible.. Albany is clearly too irresponsible to be in the business of setting the calendar for City elections. But the Board of Elections' response that it can only run an election by returning to 19th century technology makes a bad situation worse. New Yorkers deserve verifiable and accurate elections – the lever machines provide neither", said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

"Bringing back the old lever machines to replace the new optical scan voting machines, would be like exchanging a brand new microwave with a worn hot plate. Using the old lever machines would be a giant step backward," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

"The City Board of Elections needs to embrace modernity and make the necessary adjustments so the new voting machines can be used for the city's runoff election," said Alex Camarda, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at Citizens Union. "The City Board's own contingency plans show the Board can administer the runoff election with the new machines. Turning back the clock and using unreliable lever voting machines invented in 1897 is not the answer. Back to the Future is a great movie, but it makes for poor public policy."

"Going back to the days of lever machines is the wrong decision for New York. Vendors stopped making them 30 years ago. Lever machines were decommissioned for a reason: they broke down, malfunctioned, and caused many other problems. They do not leave a paper trail, which prevents meaningful recounts. And finding replacement parts for obsolete machines in the likely event of a breakdown will be difficult. Optical scanners have been used all across the country for years; New York can certainly handle them as well," said Jonathan Brater, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice.

"The old lever machines are unable to accommodate the translations that are required under the federal Voting Rights Act. We should look to more give access so that all New Yorkers can fully exercise their right to vote, not less." said Glenn D. Magpantay, Democracy Program Director at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).