The Daily Star



State, federal officials near voting-machine deal

Delaware, Otsego election officials say ’Plan B’ not ideal for disabled


By Tom Grace

Cooperstown News Bureau


New York state and federal officials are close to agreeing on a plan that will keep the state’s lever-voting machines in service for one more election, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections said Tuesday morning.


A meeting between officials from the federal Department of Justice and the state BOE was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Robert Brehm said. The parties were expected to refine the details of an agreement reached last month that postpones replacing most of the state’s voting machines until 2007.


Called "Plan B," the agreement calls for each county to install at least one ballot-marking device in time for the September 2006 primary. These devices are intended to make it easier for people with disabilities to vote this year, although there is debate over the machines’ effectiveness. Next year, counties will be asked to select voting machines to replace the lever machines, which do not comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.


Several months ago, state officials said they would replace the lever machines this year, but the state Legislature was slow to set requirements for new machines, and those requirements forced manufacturers to design machines specifically for New York.


Earlier this year, when the state appeared to be far behind schedule, the federal Department of Justice sued in federal court to force the state to act. However, with a primary only months away and a general election to follow, the parties agreed that wholesale change this year is impossible, and they have worked out a compromise.


As part of "Plan B," the state Board of Elections has tested four ballot-marking devices and plans to test a fifth this week, Brehm said. The results will be submitted to the state’s elections commissioners, who will determine which devices should be certified.


Counties will then be allowed to choose from the list of certified equipment.


Devices tested thus far include the IVS "phone-a-vote" system, the Populex digital ballot-marking system, and two systems made by Avanti, Brehm said. The state plans to test the AutoMark, a computerized device often paired with scanners, Thursday or Friday, he said.


Otsego County will purchase one of these devices and place it in the county’s Board of Elections Office in Middlefield, according to Sheila Ross, the county’s Republican deputy commissioner of elections.


"We’re making arrangements now to transport people to our office if they need to use it," Ross said. Voters with disabilities who want to use the device probably will be bused from their homes to Middlefield, she said.


Ross and her Democratic counterpart, Lucinda Jarvis, said they were not impressed with "Plan B" and expect few voters to take advantage of it.


Delaware County has made similar plans and will install one ballot-marking device at the Board of Elections office in Delhi, according to William Buccheri, Democratic elections commissioner.


Buccheri said he also was unimpressed with this plan.


The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Republican John Flanagan, chairman of the state Senate Elections Committee, is introducing legislation that would provide $10 million in state funds so counties could buy more-accessible voting machines in time for the elections.


However, Chris Zachmeyer, executive director for the Catskill Center for Independence, said Tuesday that this was a poor idea because the equipment available in the state is not effective and not worth the money.


Zachmeyer said she, too, is not pleased with "Plan B," which she said does not really address the desire of people with disabilities to vote with others at their neighborhood polling places.


"We need to do this next year, do it once, and do it right," she said.


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