March 14, 2005
Demand to follow vote act grows
By The Associated Press
ALBANY - While machine manufacturers are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying the state Legislature to bring ATM-style, touch-screen voting to New York, there is pressure mounting to consider a simpler technology.
This past week, two venerable institutions - The New York Times and the New York chapter of the League of Women Voters - came out in favor of optical scan voting as the state seeks to comply with the requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.
Optical scan technology allows machines to "read" marks made on a paper ballot.
Adopted in the wake of the vote-count fiasco in Florida that tied up the 2000 presidential election for weeks, the HAVA legislation is providing each state with millions of dollars to upgrade their voting systems. In New York, that means replacing the aging lever-action machines that made their world debut during a demonstration in Lockport in 1892.
But the federal funds for New York have been caught up in a continuing dispute between Republican Gov. George Pataki, Republicans who control the state Senate and Democrats who run the state Assembly. At issue is who controls the overhauled voting system.
Republicans favor leaving much of the decision-making to the appointed state Board of Elections. Democrats want decisions made by the elected Legislature.
The state has already received $66 million from the federal government, but that money has yet to be spent, held hostage to New York's political dispute. And, more than $150 million in additional federal funding has been held for the same reason.
"Right now, New York state is dead last in implementing the HAVA," Rachel Leon, executive director of New York's Common Cause, said.
Meanwhile, the touch screen voting machine industry spent about $1 million last year on lobbyists to work the halls of the state Capitol.
Calling optical scan voting "the most reliable and cost-effective of the current technologies," the Times editorialized that "Albany should ignore lobbyists for high-priced voting machines and come out strongly for optical scan machines."
"Their relatively low cost will be welcomed by taxpayers, of course, but it also has a direct impact on elections," the Times added.
"Because touch screen machines are so expensive, localities are likely to buy too few, leading to long lines at the polls."
In calling for the adoption of the potentially less expensive technology, League President Marcia Merrins said: "Precinct-based optical scan machines meet the League's criteria of secure, accurate, recountable and accessible."
The optical scan technology is no stranger to those who have gone through school in recent decades and taken standardized, multiple-choice tests.
The students (voters) fill in the box or circle next to the answers (candidates) they prefer. A machine scans and records the answers (votes).
The technology also provides the "paper trail" being demanded by some involved in the voting machine debate who have expressed concerns about touch screen security in the age of computer hacking.
If there are questions about the vote count, the paper ballot used in the optical scan systems would be available to election officials for recount purposes.
A report last year from the Election Data Services consulting firm said that in the 2002 elections, 32 percent of voters nationwide used optical scan systems while 29 percent used electronic (computer screen) systems.
Just under 13 percent, including most New York voters, used lever machines.
The Legislature and Pataki have the ability to write legislation that would allow local governments to purchase both computer screen and optical scan machines or limit localities to one or the other.
"Optical scan should at least be an option," said Leon.
Two Democratic state assemblywomen, Sandra Galef of Westchester County and Barbara Lifton of Ithaca, are pushing legislation that would require optical scan systems.
"I think plain and simple is better," Galef said.
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