Lawmakers join advocates in calling on New York Board of Elections to reject troubled touchscreen voting machines

ALBANY — The State Board of Elections is slated to vote Thursday on new touchscreen voting machines that advocates and lawmakers say are known for undercounting and can’t handle the city’s soon-to-be-implemented ranked-choice voting system.

A coalition of legislators is calling on the board to vote against using the Express Vote XL from Election Software & Systems, arguing they’re too expensive and prone to trouble.

“New York should stick with the gold standard - voter marked paper ballots which voters themselves place in a scanner,” the lawmakers wrote to the board Wednesday. “As lawmakers, we have worked tirelessly to reform New York’s election laws — this would be a huge step backwards.”

Assembly Members Ron Kim (D-Queens), Yuh-Line Niou (D-Manhattan), Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn), Sarah Clark, Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), Robert Carroll (D-Brooklyn), Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca), Amanda Septimo (D-Bronx), and Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan), as well as Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) all signed off on the statement.

The touchscreen machines allow voters to mark their ballot electronically instead of on traditional paper ballots that are fed into a scanner. Proponents say the XL is more efficient and functions as a two-in-one machine by marking ballots and then tabulating votes.

Advocates and elected officials have repeatedly raised alarms about the machine’s troubled history, including a Pennsylvania election in which the machines malfunctioned and failed to count 26,000 votes.

Good government group Common Cause released a report last January documenting concerns about the machines and why the group believes them to be a bad investment for New York.

“Election security experts almost universally pan these types of ballot-marking devices and have serious concerns regarding their security and reliability,” the report concluded.

Critics also contend that the costly machines are ill-equipped for ranked-choice voting and don’t allow non-English speakers the chance to independently verify their vote.

“As many advocates have warned, this machine is highly problematic: it produces unverifiable results, has malfunctioned in other states in recent elections, and, perhaps worst of all, cannot even print non-English ballots,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) said in a separate statement. “There are no circumstances under which the State Board of Elections should authorize this substandard product for use in our elections, especially at a time when voting rights are under assault.”

ES&S did not immediately return a request for comment.

Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin said ES&S, like any other vendor, paid an examination fee and the board is obliged to consider and vote on its equipment regardless of whether any local boards intend to purchase the machines.

He also noted that there will be a public comments period ahead of Thursday’s vote.

“The statute is clear that any vendor may bring a machine to the board to be examined for certification in New York State and if the vendor pays the examination fee, the board must examine it,” he said. “The statute is also clear that the voting system must meet a host of requirements and if it doesn’t meet those requirements it will not be approved.

“Certification does not guaranty that any county board of elections will ever purchase the voting system or that it will in use in New York State,” he added.