Officials will meet to discuss pros, cons of 2 voting machines


Counties preparing to comply with new federal standards


By Tom Grace


Cooperstown News Bureau


COOPERSTOWN — A conference of elections officials will meet today at the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown to discuss, among other matters, what kind of voting machines to buy.


"We’ll have elections officials here from all over our region, and we’ll share information and see if there is any consensus," said Sheila Ross, Otsego County’s deputy Republican elections commissioner.


Nearly all counties in New York state are preparing to buy voting machines that comply with federal Help America Vote Act standards, and millions in federal dollars are available to fund the purchase.


The state’s legislature has yet to agree on a bill that would guide counties through the process, but such a bill might be passed soon, said Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections.


"The legislature will be in session only a few more weeks, and I believe we’ll see a bill by the end of the month," he said Tuesday.


After the bill becomes law, counties might be able to select from the two basic types on the market, optical scanners and DREs (direct recording electronic) voting machines.


Both types were on display Tuesday at the Otsego County Building. Larry Tonelli, a manager with Sequoia, a manufacturer based in Syracuse, said his firm makes both machines. He explained how they work for the county’s elections commissioners, deputy commissioners and county Representative Greg Relic, chairman of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.


Tonelli’s opinion was that the DRE, which sells for about $8,000, is the preferable machine for counties in New York. Although the optical scanner costs about $2,500 less, it does not meet HAVA requirements for handicapped accessibility unless other items are added to it, he said.


"By the time you buy what you need, there’s not that much difference in price," he said.


Opponents of DREs, including Bo Lipari of Ithaca, who founded New Yorkers for Verified Voting, have warned that they are not as secure as optical scanners, which have been in use for about two decades.


However, Tonelli said, the security systems in the two machines are the same.


The Sequoia DRE stores paper receipts from voters, which can be checked if a recount is necessary, he said.


When people vote on an optical scanner, they mark actual ballots, which are then scanned and counted by the machine. If the count is questioned, the ballots can be counted by hand.


A drawback to the system is that the ballots cost about 65 cents each, which would cost Otsego County more than $25,000 per election, Ross said. With the DRE, a large template, which costs about $100 per machine, covers the screen. Otsego County would need about 70 of these per election, which is a $7,000 expense.


Tonelli warned that although the federal government will pay to buy machines, local governments will pay for supplies. In the long run, the DRE will save money, he said.


Relic said he was impressed by the presentation.


"If it’s as secure as they say and will cost us less to operate, then it sounds pretty good," he said, adding that he is still gathering information on the subject.


Hank Nicols, chairman of the county’s Democratic Party, said he walked into the demonstration thinking scanners were superior but left feeling differently.


"It looked good, and if everything we were told today is accurate, we’d have to go with the DREs," he said.


But he said he wants to study the matter more thoroughly and ask a technically knowledgeable critic of DREs, such as Lipari, about any possible drawbacks to the Sequoia DRE.


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