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Design Deficiencies and Lost Votes

December 5, 2011

In 2010, tens of thousands of votes in New York did not count due to overvotes -- the invalid selection of more than one candidate. This report demonstrates how the lack of adequate overvote protections disproportionately affected the state's poorest communities, suggests commonsense reforms, and examines national implications.

Executive Orders: Promoting Democracy and Openness in New York State Government

November 23, 2011

This joint report outlines 11 executive actions Gov. Andrew Cuomo can take to open up New York State government, increase the accountability of state agencies and reduce barriers to voting. The orders are centered on the basic goal of empowering the citizenry with more and better information about what its government is doing, and how it is spending tax payer dollars.

Voting Law Changes in 2012

October 3, 2011

Analyzes trends in state legislation that make voter registration and voting difficult, including requiring proof of citizenship, eliminating same-day registration, restricting early and absentee voting, and stricter rules for restoring voting rights.

Meaningful Ethics Reforms for the New Albany

February 11, 2011

The corruption scandals of the last few years have profoundly shaken the faith of New Yorkers in their state government. This report examines the system erected by New York's current ethics laws and makes clear recommendations for a way forward.

Still Broken: New York State Legislative Reform

January 2, 2009

Still Broken: New York State Legislative Reform is the 2008 update of the Brennan Center's 2004 and 2006 reports on the New York state legislative process. The report finds that the legislative process remains broken, and offers concrete recommendations for reform.

Better Ballots

July 20, 2008

Literacy tests to gain access to the polls were banned in the United States in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.99 But in November 2008, eight years after an election debacle of historic proportions, millions of voters across the United States will face a literacy test of a different sort after they've stepped into the voting booth. Their intended choices may be recorded only if they can understand instructions written at a high reading level, often using legal and election terminology. And they will only be counted if they successfully navigate ballot designs that are needlessly complicated, where candidates for the same offi ce may be listed on multiple columns or pages, or different contests are inconsistently formatted. As we have tried to demonstrate in this report, ballot design and instructions can have a huge impact on election results. We sampled some of the more "high profi le" ballot design disasters over the last several years; this is not a comprehensive analysis of the cost of poor ballot design on elections and votes counted. But, the examples illustrate how dramatically poor ballot design can affect vote totals -- particularly when a number of design fl aws appear on the same ballot. Not surprisingly, when these mistakes affected many ballots (by appearing on a signifi cant percentage of the ballots in large counties like Los Angeles or Palm Beach, or on most of the ballots in a particular state), tens of thousands -- and sometimes hundreds of thousands -- of votes in a single federal or statewide race have been lost. This does not even include the voters who may have been so confused by a ballot design that they cast their ballot for a candidate for whom they did not intend to vote (for obvious reasons, it is far more diffi cult to determine this than to know when a voter failed to successfully cast a vote at all). Better ballot design will make it far more likely that the preferred candidates of all voters will be declared winners of their contests. Palm Beach County 2000 should have been a wake-up call to legislators, election offi cials, and watchdog groups that ensuring good ballot design is a critical election administration issue that needs to be systematically addressed. Unfortunately, for the last eight years, it has continued to be largely ignored. The predictable result has disproportionately affected low-income and elderly voters, and thrown several important elections into turmoil. The good news is that there is still time before November 2008 to ensure that ballot design fl aws do not throw the results of another closely contested race into doubt, as has happened in several federal and state races in the last decade. And unlike changes to equipment (which, there is no question, could make systems more secure, accessible and usable), improving ballot design and instructions is possible for little or no cost, and a relatively small-scale investment of time.

Post-Election Audits: Restoring Trust in Elections

August 1, 2007

With the intention of assisting legislators, election officials and the public to make sense of recent literature on post-election audits and convert it into realistic audit practices, the Brennan Center and the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at Boalt Hall School of Law (University of California Berkeley) convened a blue ribbon panel (the "Audit Panel") of statisticians, voting experts, computer scientists and several of the nation's leading election officials. Following a review of the literature and extensive consultation with the Audit Panel, the Brennan Center and the Samuelson Clinic make several practical recommendations for improving post-election audits, regardless of the audit method that a jurisdiction ultimately decides to adopt.

The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Security, Accessibility, Usability, and Cost

October 10, 2006

This report is the final product of the first comprehensive, empirical analysis of electronic voting systems in the United States. It comes after nearly two years of study with many of the nations leading academics, election officials, economists, and security, usability and accessibility experts.Up until this point, there has been surprisingly little empirical study of voting systems in the areas of security, accessibility, usability, and cost. The result is that jurisdictions make purchasing decisions and adopt laws and procedures that have little to do with their overall goals.The Brennan Center analysis finds that there is not yet any perfect voting system or set of procedures. One system might be more affordable, but less accessible to members of the disabled community; certain election procedures might make the systems easier to use, but they compromise security. Election officials and community members should be aware of the trade-offs when choosing one voting system or set of procedures over another, and they should know how to improve the system they choose.Included in this full report is an executive summary of the Brennan Centers analysis of voting system security, voting system usability, as well as voting system accessibility and cost.The Brennan Center analysis of cost is in part based upon a review of voting system contracts provided by jurisdictions around the country and a cost calculator [no longer available]. The cost calculator and contracts should assist jurisdictions in determining the initial on ongoing costs of various voting systems.

The Machinery of Democracy: Voting System Accessibility

October 10, 2006

Traditionally, many voters with disabilities have been unable to cast their ballots without assistance from personal aides or poll workers. Those voters do not possess the range of visual, motor, and cognitive facilities typically required to operate common voting systems. For example, some are not be able to hold a pen or stylus to mark a ballot that they must see and read. Thus, the voting experience for citizens who cannot perform certain tasks reading a ballot, holding a pointer or pencil has not been equal to that of their peers without disabilities.The Help America Vote Act of 2002 took a step forward in addressing this longstanding inequity. According to HAVA, new voting systems must allow voters with disabilities to complete and cast their ballots in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters.1 In other words, as jurisdictions purchase new technologies designed to facilitate voting in a range of areas, they must ensure that new systems provide people with disabilities with an experience that mirrors the experience of other voters.This report is designed to help state and local jurisdictions improve the accessibility of their voting systems. We have not conducted any direct accessibility testing of existent technologies. Rather, we set forth a set of critical questions for election officials and voters to use when assessing available voting systems, indicate whether vendors have provided any standard or custom features designed to answer these accessibility concerns, and offer an evaluation of each architectures limitations in providing an accessible voting experience to all voters.The report thus provides a foundation of knowledge from which election officials can begin to assess a voting systems accessibility. The conclusions of this report are not presented as a substitute for the evaluation and testing of a specific manufacturers voting system to determine how accessible a system is in conjunction with a particular jurisdictions election procedures and system configuration. We urge election officials to include usability and accessibility testing in their product evaluation process.