Campaigns & Elections

Security fears persist about New York’s potential use of electronic voting machines

The state Legislature could vote to ban the devices before the state Board of Elections approves them for use.

A touch-screen voting machine being used during the Democratic primary in Illinois.

A touch-screen voting machine being used during the Democratic primary in Illinois. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Good-government groups and election security experts are sounding the alarm bells about new electronic voting machines that may soon come to New York. The state Board of Elections as early as this summer may approve touch-screen electronic voting machines that have come under scrutiny in other states. In a new letter to state leaders, election security experts from around the country as well as organizations that advocate for fair elections made the case for lawmakers to approve legislation that would ban the machines before the end of this year’s legislative session on June 2.

The machines, called hybrid or all-in-one voting machines, would replace the current paper ballot and scanners that voters currently use in New York. The companies Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems – which found itself at the heart of false election fraud claims by Republicans in 2020 – are seeking approval from state election officials to begin bringing the machines to New York. They have even hired the lobbying firm Davidoff, Hutcher & Citron to promote the technology, with the firm circulating a memo among lawmakers in opposition to the bill that would ban the machines. And once election officials approve new election technology, it becomes much harder to remove it from the state.

In a letter shared with City & State, election security experts and good government groups laid out the various reasons why lawmakers should ban the hybrid voting machines, starting with security risks. The letter said the machines have a design flaw that could be hacked – something that has already been proven by hackers who work to help improve security – and that the lack of a paper trail would make auditing election results difficult or impossible. “Time is running out,” the letter signed by some 70 election security and technology experts reads. “These systems are seeking approval for use in our state. But New York does not need hybrid or universal-use voting machines.” They’re calling for the hybrid ban bill to be passed before the state Board of Elections can act on the companies’ request to get their machines certified.

The letter also argued the machines would unnecessarily cost taxpayers more money for little if any benefit. The touch-screen electronic machines can cost up to twice as much as ballot scanning machines that the state already uses.

Although issues around election security have gained wider attention since 2016 for the average voter, election technology experts have nearly universally agreed that the hybrid machines used by about half the country pose security risks, and they advocate for states to stop using them.

Pennsylvania and Georgia, two of the states that have recently begun using the new machines, have pending lawsuits to get rid of them. In Pennsylvania, the machines experienced extensive glitches when used in Philadelphia for the first time in 2019 that led to miscounted tallies. In Georgia, advocates have said that the machines caused long wait times and lines. And in the wake of the 2020 elections, when Republicans made false claims about Dominion’s voting machines, security experts said that the very same machines actually can pose real security risks.

Other good-government groups like Common Cause New York have also advocated for the legislation that would ban hybrid voting machines in the state. The group came out with a report in 2020 on the multifaceted problems with the machines and more recently held a press conference with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams this month in support of the bill. “These hybrid voting machines are expensive, inaccessible, and risky, and we cannot allow them to be used in New York elections,” Williams said in a statement at the time. “Albany can pass the hybrid ban bill now before the summer elections, and it absolutely must.”

The state Board of Elections had previously halted the certification process of Election Systems & Software’s machine over regulatory concerns in 2021. At the time, the New York-based group SMART Elections, which focuses on bringing awareness to election security issues and helped organize this letter, shared research with election officials about the risks associated with the hybrid machines. Election Systems & Software later issued a cease and desist letter to the group, claiming it made defamatory statements.

The bill already passed the state Senate last year, but died in the Assembly. It’s once again poised to make it through the state Senate, with it appearing on the chamber’s floor calendar awaiting a vote, but it remains stalled in the Assembly Election Law Committee despite the legislation having over 50 cosponsors. “The bill would guarantee that every election could be audited with paper ballots that clearly indicate voter intent,” Assembly Member Amy Paulin, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. A spokesperson for Assembly Member Latrice Walker, the chair of the Election Law Committee, did not return a request for comment.