New York – A new Brennan Center for Justice analysis of data from the 2010 general election finds more than 20,000 votes for governor in New York were lost because machines read them as “overvotes,” ballots with too many candidates selected. Even more votes were lost in other contests – 30,000 to 40,000 more – according to the Brennan Center’s report, Design Deficiencies and Lost Votes. The analysis finds New York voting machines’ confusing and misleading overvote warning message is at fault, as well as the state’s outdated ballot design.
New York is not alone. As the report notes, in recent years, similar problems have been observed in other states, including key presidential “swing states.” In Florida’s 2008 election, 13 counties used the same overvote protections and machines as were used in New York in 2010. The results in these counties were the same as in New York: thousands of votes lost due to overvoting. Similarly, several counties in Ohio saw more than 1 in 200 votes for governor lost due to overvoting.
“Our analysis in just this one state found incredible numbers of lost votes, but New York is hardly the only state vulnerable to this problem,” said Norden. “This highlights the need for full, thorough publication of all machine tallies after every election, better ballot design, and better recount procedures and public access to paper ballots so we can ensure every vote is counted correctly.”
The authors argue this is a problem that can be solved, writing that “a well-functioning voting system, even one that includes optical scanning equipment, should have overvote rates very close to zero.”
The report’s key findings include:
- In New York, about 20,000 votes were lost in the 2010 governor’s contest, with between 50,000 and 60,000 overvotes in all contests. These numbers could easily be doubled in a presidential election year, resulting in over 100,000 overvotes.
- Low-income voters and racial and language minorities were most impacted by this problem in recent elections in Florida, New York and Ohio.
- Poor ballot design leads to more overvotes. In New York, the contests for governor and for Sen. Gillibrand’s seat had the two highest overvote rates in New York City. These were the only two contests where the candidates were listed over two rows. In Ohio, a confusing ballot instruction in 2010 appears to have led to extraordinarily high overvote rates in that state’s gubernatorial contest.
The report includes detailed breakdowns of the overvote data from the 2010 election in New York City, including multiple tables and color-coded maps. The report also includes information on the steps New York is undertaking to address the problem, as well as recommendations for further reducing overvotes in New York and across the country.
The full report, Design Deficiencies and Lost Votes, can be viewed or downloaded on the Brennan Center’s web site. For more information or to request an interview with the report’s authors, contact Andrew Goldston at 646.292.8372 or email@example.com.