The Daily Mail


March 18, 2009


Group rejects voting machine switch in county

Change unwelcome, according to Citizens for Clean Elections


By Melanie Lekocevic


CATSKILL — When the vote count fiasco in the 2000 presidential election forever colored the election results, the federal government promised changes in the way votes are cast in federal, state and local elections. To live up to that promise, the government mandated changes in the types of machines that can be used to tally up ballots.


But a group of Greene County residents has a message of its own — they say ‘no thanks’ to change.


For more than 50 years, votes in the county have been cast on old-fashioned lever machines. Voters simply step into the booth, pull the curtains together, and push the lever for the candidate of their choice. The machines may be uncomplicated and out-of-date, but they work, supporters say.


But to comply with new regulations, the state is now requiring all counties to switch to new, computerized voting machines. And the decision set off a storm of controversy at Monday night’s meeting of the Greene County Legislature.


“I urge everyone on this legislature to please go to the state legislature and ask them to make sure they will provide a way for us to use our lever machines and not switch to computers,” said Irene Miller of Palenville from the advocacy group New York Citizens for Clean Elections.


She was joined by more than a dozen supporters who don’t want the county to switch to the optical scan machines that will soon take the place of the lever machines, which were used in Greene County as far back as the 1920s, according to Miller. Opponents to the state’s plan say the computerized voting machines will be prone to hacking, can be manipulated to change election results, and will require substantial recounts.


According to Democratic Elections Commissioner Thomas Burke, the decision is out of the county’s hands. While he agreed that the lever machines could conceivably work better than the newer optical scan voting machines, the state leaves them with no choice — everyone will soon make the switch.


“Are the new machines as good as the old ones? I don’t think so, but everyone in the State of New York will have to switch to the optical scan machine,” Burke said. “We don’t know when the change will happen, but it will happen.”


Nothing short of litigation will stop the switch, Burke added, and in other counties where that has been tried, it has failed.


The new machines provide one thing the lever machines don’t — a paper trail. Each ballot that is cast will include a paper ballot that can be recounted, and that’s the state’s goal.


The controversy goes back to a federal law passed six years ago, the Help America Vote Act, which was a result of the highly controversial 2000 presidential election. New York State followed suit in 2005, passing the Election Reform and Modernization Act, or ERMA, legislation corresponding to the new federal regulations.


It is not yet known when the switch to the computerized machines will be made. The special election in the 20th Congressional district, scheduled for March 31, will be made on the old-style lever machines, with the exception of special accommodations made for voters with disabilities, who have already made the switch. After that election, though, it is not known when everyone will switch over — it could be in the primaries in September, the general election in November, or even after that.


While it appears the change will happen whether local officials want it to or not, Greene County legislators promised to consider a resolution at their next government operations committee meeting that would urge the state to reconsider, a move other counties around the state have already made. However, officials do not hold out much hope that it will impact the state’s decision.


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