VOTE COUNTING EQUIPMENT; VOTING; VOTING MACHINES;

VOTING;

OLR Research Report


January 30, 2003

 

2003-R-0115

(Revised)

MECHANICAL LEVER VOTING MACHINES AND THE HELP AMERICA VOTE ACT OF 2002

By: Mary M. Janicki, Assistant Director

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a State or jurisdiction which used a particular type of voting system in the elections for Federal office held in November 2000 from using the same type of system after the effective date of this section, so long as the system meets or is modified to meet the requirements of this section ( 301, P. L. 107-252).

But the law does establish a deadline and impose certain standards that every state’s voting machines must meet for elections for federal offices. Beginning January 1, 2006, HAVA requires all voting systems used in federal elections to:

In addition every state must adopt uniform standards defining what constitutes a vote and what will be counted as a vote for each certified voting system.

A spokesperson for the Voting Machine Service Center, Inc. , the company that refurbishes and sells the mechanical lever machines, addressed the new voting systems standards. She says that the machines have fold-down panels that allow them to be lowered to accommodate people in wheelchairs. There is no accommodation for people in wheelchairs who cannot use their arms. They would require assistance. To allow the blind or visually impaired to vote, officials can insert over the ballot label a clear plastic strip that has candidate and office names imprinted in Braille. The plain plastic strips are part of the ballot label now. The lever machines have no capacity for an audio feature at this time for use by blind voters who do not read Braille.

The mechanical lever machines can accommodate a ballot label written in up to three languages.

The mechanical lever machines include a feature that can provide a paper audit. Using noncarbon (NCR) paper at the back of the AVM printomatic machine, officials make an impression with the machine set at zero before the election. After the election, they make another impression that shows the vote totals for that machine. The printomatic accessory can be installed on machines manufactured after 1962.

Kennie Gill, the staff director and chief counsel of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, who worked on the development of the federal legislation, makes the point that the disabled accessibility requirements apply to voting by the blind or visually impaired (Braille is not an alternative solution since not all blind people can read Braille) and to voting by people who do not have the use of their arms or legs. Currently, such people can vote with assistance on the mechanical lever machines, but are not able to do so in private or independently. Having at least one DRE or properly equipped voting machine at each polling place meets the act’s disabled accessibility requirement; however, every machine the state or a municipality purchases with federal funds after January 1, 2007, must provide the kind of accessibility required by the new law. Any voter who comes to the polling place must be allowed to use the DRE machine; it cannot be segregated for use by only the disabled.

Election officials who opt to use the single DRE machine in each polling place must be aware of the act’s requirements for implementing a nondiscriminatory and uniform system. Ms. Gill points out that the U. S. Supreme Court also emphasized equal protection concerns in its decision in Bush v. Gore (531 U. S. 525 (2000)).

The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another (at 530).

It has not yet been determined whether the use of two different types of voting machines in a polling place or in the state violates equal protection requirements.

Likewise, where towns must provide ballots in alternative languages, election officials in a town cannot use a separate machine with the ballot face printed in the alternative language only for its Hispanic voters. In Connecticut, seven municipalities must provide bilingual election materials (all Hispanic) under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and would be covered under HAVA’s language accessibility requirement. They are: Bridgeport, Hartford, Meriden, New Britain, New Haven, Waterbury, and Windham (Federal Register, Vol. 67, No. 144, July 26, 2002, p. 48873).