Brennan Center Sues NY Over Seasoning in Poisonous Brew

Lawsuit Dishonors Justice Brennan’s Name

The Brennan Center For Justice has filed suit against the NY State and NYC Boards of Elections to prevent election officials from configuring newly purchased optical scan voting machines in a manner that would disfranchise large numbers of voters. The suit, filed on behalf of NAACP, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Working Families Party and other plaintiffs, seeks to compel election officials to use procedures to prevent votes from being disqualified when a voter selects too many candidates in a particular race, known as “overvoting.”

Of course it is important to require procedures to prevent overvoting, but The Election Transparency Coalition (ETC) has repeatedly insisted that all protective procedures New York has enjoyed for centuries be maintained, including the opportunity for meaningful public oversight of our elections. The Brennan Center’s lawsuit, by focusing on a single protection, fails to address the much more significant problem: the State’s insistence that counties deploy concealed fraud-enabling vote-counting technology in the first place!

ETC maintains that the Brennan Center suit is akin to fretting over the seasoning in a poisonous brew. If the Brennan Center’s case succeeds, overvoting may be less likely to occur, but votes can still be nullified by the concealed vote counting system the Brennan Center supports!

While correctly pointing out that lever voting machines make overvoting impossible, the Brennan Center’s case fails to mention that lever machines also cannot be secretly programmed or “hacked” to switch and miscount votes without detection — which is eminently possible with optical scanners.

As ETC has been saying for years, electronic optical scan vote counting systems are vulnerable to tampering and malfunction that is completely undetectable. The way in which such voting machines were programmed to count, as well as how they in fact counted, is hidden, violating centuries of New York State election law mandating public oversight and accountability. That’s why we have been working so hard to bring our own lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of NY’s Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA), which is forcing NY’s counties to replace their existing secure, transparent HAVA-compliant voting systems.

Nassau County has filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court similar to ETC’s upcoming suit  and a federal judge has ruled that federal law does not require replacement of lever voting machines. Yet the Brennan Center’s case continues to promote the widely held misconception that the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandates replacement of NY’s trusted lever machines. The State of NY had also made this erroneous claim and argued that Nassau’s case must be tried in Federal Court. But last month, Federal Court Judge Joseph Bianco rejected the State’s arguments and remanded Nassau County’s suit back to State Court. As Nassau had argued, New York has been in compliance with HAVA since 2008, when the State augmented the lever voting system with ballot marking devices at every polling place to increase accessibility for voters with special needs.

The late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan understood the imperative for public scrutiny of government processes, repeatedly finding the public’s right to witness and safeguard its interest to be constitutionally protected.

The Brennan Center website quotes Justice Brennan as saying, “. . . the Constitution will endure as a vital charter of human liberty as long as there are those with the courage to defend it, the vision to interpret it, and the fidelity to live by it.”

The Election Transparency Coalition calls upon the Brennan Center to honor its namesake by challenging the dangers posed to our democracy by concealed vote-counting systems. ERMA must be declared unconstitutional so that transparency and citizen oversight can be returned to our elections and we can perform our duties as citizens to ensure that every vote will be counted correctly.

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