Compare Levers & Scanners

Saving Our Lever Voting System Before Democracy Goes Down for the Count

Comparison of New York’s Current Voting System with Computerized System Mandated by Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA)

Print Version (.pdf)

Feature System
Lever Voting System with ballot marking devices (BMDs) – ballots hand counted at polling site Optical Scan System with ballot marking devices (BMDs) –all ballots counted by computer
Replacement cost Levers: N/A

BMDs: Medium

Very High
Frequency of equipment breakdowns Levers: Low

BMDs: Unknown

Estimated lifespan 100+ years Less than 10 years
Maintenance requirements Levers: Low

BMDs: Unknown

Security of election results High Extremely low
Safe from undetectable wholesale vote manipulation Yes No
Observability of all essential steps of counting process Yes No
Produces dependable election results on election night Yes No
Provides access for people with special needs to vote privately and independently and trust that their votes will be counted accurately Yes No
Enables counties to control administration of elections independent of irresponsible voting system vendors Levers: Yes
BMDs: No
Time-tested Yes No
High level of voter confidence Yes No
Compatible with NY’s Constitutionally mandated election protections Yes No
HAVA compliant Yes Yes
ERMA compliant No In doubt
Levers are not the problem! ERMA is the problem!

ERMA must be repealed or ruled unconstitutional!

“If you have something that works and something that doesn’t work, I vote for the thing that works.” — SBoE Commissioner Gregory Peterson

Replacement Cost:

Note: Initial costs for purchase of equipment were not included here because equipment has either been purchased already or is covered by HAVA funds. In order to comply with the accessibility requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), most NY counties have purchased software-based machines that combine ballot marking devices (BMDs) and optical scanners in one unit. Should NY opt to continue use of its current voting system, these combination systems would not be purchased again; machines that can mark ballots but have no tabulation function sell for approximately half the cost of the combination model. Should NY move to a completely software-based voting system, when individual optical scan units require replacement, the counties will be forced to pay whatever the vendor chooses to charge in a setting where there is no competition and the county has no option but to pay.

For further information, see Vendors are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections, by Ellen Theisen, Director, VotersUnite.Org

Executive Summary (.pdf)

Full Report (.pdf)

Frequency of Equipment Breakdowns:

See What New York Election Commissioners have to look forward to if Computerized Voting Systems are Permitted to Replace our Existing Lever Voting System,

See also lists documenting thousands of software-based voting machines breakdowns as reported in the media

Estimated Lifespan:

With proper care the lever machines can last another century. In contrast, due to technological obsolescence or limited useful lives, software-based machines will have to be replaced in short order at whatever price the vendor demands.

Maintenance Requirements:

Lever machines require minimal, predictable and affordable maintenance. Parts are readily available.

Suppliers of lever machine parts have provided documentation about continued availability of parts:

Voting Machine Service Center: “VMSC can say with confidence that the AVM lever machines in the State of New York could be maintained indefinitely.”

International Election Solutions (Shoup):

In contrast, software-based machines demand “exorbitant” maintenance costs, annually recurring fees that have “skyrocketed.”

The report Vendors are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections, by Ellen Theisen, Director, VotersUnite.Org (executive summary (.pdf), full report (.pdf) contains many examples, including the following:

Iowa: “Webster County, Iowa: On-going fees charged by ES&S have doubled the cost of elections. In 2005, the county budgeted $49,000 for elections, but in 2007 the cost skyrocketed to $110,700 for only 29 precincts and 25,300 registered voters. According to County Auditor Carol Messerly <b>the increase was primarily because of the maintenance contracts</b> for the new optical scanners and ballot-marking devices. At this point, the county saw no realistic alternative to paying the exorbitant costs of maintenance since they had already bought the system.”

Ohio: ““This completely blind-sided the county,” said Ray Feikert, a Holmes County commissioner in northeastern Ohio. “It’s kind of a back-door expense that no one saw coming.””

New Mexico: “When the state purchased the equipment, the one-year warranty was equivalent to the ES&S’ “Gold Plan,” which promises full coverage for the machines, software, and support for all the counties. But, according to Ms. Lyman, the promise wasn’t fulfilled. She said that during the first year, ES&S didn’t fix even one broken machine — and there were quite a few sitting in the warehouse waiting for repairs. Further, she said they “held parts in hostage,” refusing to send

them to the counties so they could do their own repairs. Mr. Lyman told the author: ES&S has New Mexico over a barrel. They won’t fix the machines; they won’t train us to fix them; and they say if we open the hood the warranty is nullified.”

Security of Election Results:

For a century, fraudulently modifying lever machines has proven to be difficult and time-consuming, requiring tampering with each individual machine. With software-based election equipment, however, election results can easily be falsified.

“An attack could plausibly be accomplished by a single skilled individual with temporary access to a single voting machine. The damage could be extensive – malicious code could spread to every voting machine in polling places and to county election servers.”  — California Secretary of State, Source Code Review of the Diebold Voting System, July 20, 2007

  1. Over three dozen independent computer scientist reports have proven that software can be undetectably manipulated. Election commissioners, other election officials and observers cannot detect or prevent the software from miscounting the votes. These studies are available at:

Safe from Undetectable Wholesale Vote Manipulation:

Both California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner commissioned comprehensive studies of their states’ voting systems; both revealed even more widespread and dangerous flaws in software-based voting systems than previous studies had found.

See California’s Top to Bottom Review

and Ohio’s EVEREST Report

One article reviewing the California study states,

“California’s Secretary of State’s 2007 Top to Bottom Review of the voting computers in the state revealed that Sequoia’s voting system could be subverted without ‘leaving any evidence that the security of the system had been compromised …. Sequoia’s security hardening consisted in large part of a customer relations campaign to allay fears that tampering would be a problem.”

In March 2009, a <b>CIA cybersecurity expert</b> testified that computerized elections are vulnerable to rigging. He believes Venezuela’s election was rigged. Smartmatic, a Venezuelan-owned voting vendor, owns the intellectual property rights to Sequoia. Sequoia will program the software for most counties in New York should ERMA be implemented. See: Most Electronic Voting Isn’t Secure, CIA Expert Says

Observability of all essential steps of counting process:

Democracy requires a transparent, theft-deterring system. With the lever system, officials program and observers examine, with their own eyes, to see that each machine will properly count the votes. Paper ballots marked with BMDs are counted by hand in the polling place on election night. In contrast, software machines are secretly programmed. If NY moves to optical scan vote counting, the vote tabulation process will take place inside machines, where it cannot be verified by human beings. See also the discussion of constitutionality and ERMA.

Produces dependable election results on election night:

Lever machines produce verified, accurate results of the count on election night. Once locked in place, lever machines are immutable. They cannot switch, flip or add votes; software machines can. Scientific studies concur that software-based machines can be attacked, even remotely via wireless device, regardless of whether they have been ‘certified’ for use. Software-based machines are so unreliable and exploitable that ERMA has recognized their reported results necessitate some degree (3-100%) hand counting in an effort to verify the machine count.

The very close race in NY’s 20th CD proved lever machines succeed where software machines fail. See Election Commissioners Reflect on Levers in the NY-20 Congressional Race.

Provides access for people with special needs to vote privately and independently and trust that their votes will be counted accurately:

In 2008, NY became compliant with HAVA’s accessibility requirements of by installing ballot marking devices (BMDs) in every voting location in the state. BMDs provide voters with computer assistance to mark a paper ballot. The paper ballots are counted by hand according to rigorous standards. Please note that HAVA does not require that all voters use the same voting technology. Changing over to a system in which all votes are cast on paper and counted by computer would not increase access for voters with special needs, but would increase the vulnerability of the vote count to inadvertent or intentional corruption.

Enables counties to control administration of elections independent of irresponsible voting system vendors:

Use of electronic voting machines makes counties dependent upon vendors who exploit this reliance with ever-escalating costs. Furthermore, “the myriad of breakdowns,” late deliveries and other contractual breaches have destroyed the counties’ ability to properly administer their elections.

See Vendors are Undermining the Structure of U.S. Elections, by Ellen Theisen, Director, VotersUnite.Org

Executive Summary (.pdf)

Full Report (.pdf)

The irresponsibility shown by voting system vendors makes them ineligible to contract with the State of NY.

See Voting System Companies Fail to Meet New York State’s Requirements for “Responsible Contractors

See also New York State Law Prohibits the State from Entering into Contracts with Any of the Vendors Presently under Consideration”, and an update to that document


Lever machines have reliably proven themselves over a century. Software-based systems have provided quite an impressive list of failures over their short lifespan.

Compatible with NY’s Constitutionally mandated election protections:

The NY Constitution and 232 years of case law guarantee ‘the franchise’ (that eligible voters be allowed to cast their votes and that their votes be accepted and be counted as cast): nothing can be allowed to compromise that. The system of mechanical lever voting machines and paper ballots created by BMDs that are counted in public at the polling site on election night secures the franchise. Software-driven machines, proven time and again to be vulnerable to malfunction and malfeasance, do not guarantee that votes will be counted as cast. By employing a mutable technology and hiding the counting process, election officials, candidates and the public are deprived of both eyewitness and physical evidence of error or fraud: malware can erase all evidence of how the software was programmed to miscount the votes.

HAVA Compliant:

Until 2008, NY’s lever voting system satisfied all but the accessibility requirement of HAVA, the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. In 2008 NY became HAVA-compliant by installing accessible Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) in every polling site.

See also, New York’s Voting System Satisfies and Surpasses HAVA,

ERMA Compliant:

In 2005, New York enacted the Election Reform and Modernization Act (ERMA) mandating the replacement of the lever voting machines, in an attempt to bring the state into compliance with HAVA. Since then, NY has become compliant with HAVA by complementing the lever voting system with ballot marking devices (BMDs) in every polling place. Yet despite the current system’s compliance with the federal statute, ERMA continues to require abandonment of our trusted, time-tested lever voting machines.

ERMA (EL 7-202) requires that any voting machine or system shall:

“r. ensure the integrity and security of the voting machine or system by:

(i)                 being capable of conducting both pre-election and post-election testing of the logic and accuracy of the machine or system that demonstrates an accurate tally when a known quantity of votes is entered into each machine.”

No software-based system can comply with this requirement of ERMA: neither pre- nor post-election testing can be guaranteed to demonstrate an accurate tally at the election, as required by ERMA, because malware can’t be detected. Therefore, even the voting system mandated by ERMA does not comply with ERMA!

One Response to Compare Levers & Scanners

  1. […] you can do to help our efforts. Feel free to use the comparison chart between levers and scanners, as a handout and as a general reference piece. * We went to conferences and meetings to create […]

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