“At a time when Americans’ faith in our government is at an all time low, outsourcing the functions of our democracy to a machine with a history of issues and little ability for verification is a risk that New York cannot afford.”

Adi Talwar

Eric Ramirez, 39, marking his ballot at a polling station in the Bronx during the June primary.

On Tuesday, New Yorkers will head to the ballot box. They’ll grab a pen, or use a ballot marking device which assists folks who are disabled, and put it to paper. They’ll circle in their candidate of choice, check to make sure there are no errors, and submit the piece of paper into the ballot scanner. They’ll carry on with their day and rest assured that their vote was correctly counted.

This is the gold standard for voting—and until recently, was the only way a New Yorker could cast their ballot. Now, residents may vote on machines that combine a touchscreen ballot marking device, scanner, and printer. The machines ditch the paper verification that New Yorkers have relied on for decades and instead generate problematic ballot summary cards with a barcode that is used to tabulate votes which voters cannot read, verify or correct if it’s wrong (as election law requires!). These machines are slower and unlike paper ballots and privacy booths, the number of people who can vote is limited to the number of machines.

Confusing? We agree. That’s why we’ve introduced legislation in the New York State legislature known as the Voting Integrity and Verification Act of New York, or VIVA, which would protect a voter’s right to cast their vote by a secure paper ballot.

Not only will making voters use these machines confuse the democratic process, it will also invite unnecessary security risks and undermine confidence in election outcomes. Despite the New York State Board of Elections’ certification, electronic voting machines have caused serious issues in states where they are in use that are almost certain to reoccur here in New York.

Since being introduced, states that have used electronic voting machines have reported numerous software issues including glitches, ballot jams, and longer lines caused by the difficult-to-use interface. In Pennsylvania, a state review confirmed major usability issues for voters with disabilities and widespread issues during Pennsylvania’s 2019 general election prompted a bipartisan rebuke of the machine from county election officials. And in Georgia, researchers at the University of Michigan and federal authorities identified severe vulnerabilities to outside influence in electronic machines used during the 2020 election cycle.

These types of machines are also prohibitively expensive. Local governments are facing tough choices in the face of budget shortfalls and shouldn’t be forced to spend tax dollars on things we don’t need. The machines can cost as much as $12,000. But how much it will actually cost varies for many reasons, including county size and number of poll sites.

What is more alarming is that the price does not include the additional costs for storing and maintaining the machines, or for backup machines should any fail. And a county can’t just buy one of them—they’d have to convert their entire poll site, so we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars just to “fix” something that isn’t broken.

If hybrid machines like many on the market cannot guarantee a seamless voting process, then New Yorkers should not be forced to rely on them to guarantee their voice is heard. VIVA guarantees that voters continue to control their own votes, allowing them to directly mark their ballots by hand, while ensuring that ballot marking machines are available to voters with disabilities or others who need or wish to use them.

New Yorkers deserve to know their votes are counted correctly, and securely—and can be double checked during an audit. Many state legislatures across the country are hard at work passing restrictive voting rules that create barriers to participation and undermine Americans’ faith in the value of their vote. New York lawmakers should continue making it easier for people to vote, not manufacturing glitches.

At a time when Americans’ faith in our government is at an all time low, outsourcing the functions of our democracy to a machine with a history of issues and little ability for verification is a risk that New York cannot afford. Lawmakers must prioritize the passage of VIVA in 2024 to protect New York from the cost of complicating our electoral process and uphold our commitment to a fair and transparent electoral process.

Assemblymember Brian Cunningham represents parts of Brooklyn. Senator Cordell Cleare represents parts of Upper Manhattan.