The Ithaca Journal endorses optical scan. They misstate the amount of lobbying dollars, which is over 1 Million dollars, not 1 Billion. 


Opinion - Friday, May 13, 2005


Optical scan voting: Albany can't decide, so Tompkins should




In one move on Tuesday, state lawmakers delivered bad news and good news to those interested in making sure that future elections run smoothly in this state.


First, the bad news.


Following the infamous hanging-chad debacle in Florida and the chaos it tossed into the 2000 presidential election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act. Among its goals: Entice states to upgrade old voting machines by offering to pick up 95 percent of the cost. The catch, the state had to have the new machines ready to replace about 22,000 old lever-style machines by 2006. Failure to do so could cut New York out of about $200 million in federal aid.


Every other state has acted.


But, with its usual political palsy, Albany kept promising to do something as the months and years ticked by, but never managed to cross the finish line. Several bills, including a bill cosponsored by local Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, have been stalled in committee. On Tuesday, members of a special legislative panel created to blaze this state's path into the future of voting told the media they've decided to pass the buck. Instead of making a decision to move the state forward together - securing the federal aid and taking the many advantages that united action presents - lawmakers are saying they're going to let each county decide what to do. Critics warn that a patchwork of different systems could make statewide recounts a nightmare, just like in Florida in 2000.


So what's the good news?


Since 2003 records show big voting machine manufacturers have pumped more than $1 billion into lobbying the state Legislature on behalf of big, high-tech and expensive electronic touch-screen voting machines. Called "Direct Recording Electronic" devices, or DREs, the machine lets you interact with a computer screen and print a paper receipt when you're done.


While the lobbyist spent about five times more than the estimated $230 million it would cost to buy the DRE machines just trying to get Albany to close the deal, grassroots groups like the League of Women Voters and Alpine-based New Yorkers for Verified Voting carried out their own counter-campaign. Their goal: Get Albany lawmakers to consider the less expensive, if far less sexy, option of optical scan machines.


Everyone who's ever taken a standardized test knows how this works - you mark the boxes on a paper ballot then send it through a machine that reads the votes. The machine can detect errors and alert the voter, and the original hand-marked paper ballots are kept as a permanent record should any result be questioned. There's even a special machine that can help people with disabilities cast votes that get printed on the same ballot and scanned by the same machine.


According to New Yorkers for Verified Voting, it would cost about $114 million to outfit the state with these machines. In Tompkins County alone, the savings would be about $380,000 compared to DREs.


Critics, even some not on the payroll of the big voting machine companies, have said the cost of paper for ballots could make optical scan machines more expensive in the end. Optical scan backers counter that longer service time as well as less costly repair and operating costs make their machines less expensive in the end. The federal offer to help is a one-time deal, they note. If the complex DRE machines have to be fixed or replaced, state and local government will have to foot the bill.


Fair points to consider.


But, in backing optical scan voting, Lifton and the other lawmakers who backed A6503 as well as the Tompkins County Legislature when it passed Resolution No. 3 back in January, insisted there is another point to consider as well: Only the optical scan/paper ballot system provide the permanent verifiable record that is essential to electoral accountability. Digits on a memory board are wonderfully convenient, but only big boxes of hand-marked paper can be counted upon when tight or disputed races mean every vote must be recounted.


Which brings us back to the good news.


Whether they meant to or not, by tossing this to the counties state lawmakers have spared us all the billion-dollar-boondoggle we might have all been forced to eat. In that odd way, Albany showed courage by resisting the lobbyist and at least leaving counties with the option of fashioning their own reasonable solutions.


Of course, they could have given counties a little more time. But, hey, we'll take any good news out of Albany we can get.


Originally published Friday, May 13, 2005



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