http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060113/NEWS02/601130390/1026/NEWS10

January 13, 2006

 

Putnam hearing focuses on future of voting

 

By SUSAN ELAN

selan@thejournalnews.com

THE JOURNAL NEWS

 

The New York state Board of Elections will accept comments on voting machine regulations until Jan. 23, the end of the public-hearing period. Comments may be mailed to the board at 40 Steuben St., Albany, NY 12207 or e-mailed to ldaghlian@elections.state.ny.us

 

CARMEL A state Board of Elections official said yesterday that commissioners are prepared to meet next week with federal representatives regarding a threatened lawsuit over New York's delay in bringing in new voting machines and complying with other requirements of the federal Help America Vote Act.

 

"Our obligation is to make sure that voting works in New York state and to insure the integrity of the system," Peter Kosinski, co-executive director of the state Board of Elections told the 65 participants from Putnam, Westchester, Rockland and Dutchess counties who attended a public hearing yesterday at Putnam's Emergency Services building.

 

State officials were informed in a letter this week from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division that New York is in danger of being sued for lagging behind every other state in complying with the HAVA requirements adopted by Congress in the wake of the vote-counting fiasco in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

 

No new voting machines have been certified in New York, and state officials do not know whether any will be in place in time for the September primary or the November elections, Kosinski said.

 

Putnam election commissioners Robert Bennett and Anthony Scannapieco Jr. have said they expect to have to trot out their old lever-action voting machines this year for at least one more election cycle.

 

But for the 20 impassioned participants who spoke during yesterday's four-hour hearing, the most urgent issue facing state and county election officials is selecting voting machines that guarantee security, accuracy, reliability and accessibility.

 

Just about all of the speakers at the Putnam hearing as at the three held in Rochester, Albany and New York City supported certification of optical-scan voting systems over the touch-screen ones they consider more vulnerable to being hacked or maliciously programmed to change votes.

 

Rosemary MacLaughlin of Katonah, a member of the League of Women Voters of Westchester County, said the group supports paper-ballot optical scan voting equipment.

 

"For us to have a safe, secure, verifiable system for voting, optical scan is the best choice," said Putnam Legislator Vincent Tamagna, R-Philipstown. "We will lose voters who didn't grow up with Game Boys, and the DREs (touch-screen computers) have built in obsolescence. I am gravely concerned about cost."

 

New York has received $220 million in federal funds to buy new voting machines. The official deadline for compliance with the HAVA legislation was Jan. 1.

 

Only one speaker, Paul Loewenwarter of Croton-on-Hudson, advocated for touch-screen, ATM-style voting machines. "Optical scanners are not so clearly the best choice" because "people do not always mark ballots properly," Loewenwarter said. "The scanner tries to figure out whether a mark on a ballot is a voter's true choice or just an accidental smudge."

 

Koskinski, a Republican, said Loewenwarter's remarks were the only ones he and his Democratic counterpart, Stanley Zalen, have heard supporting touch-screen voting technology over the course of the four hearings.

 

Yesterday's hearing in Putnam was the last one in the state before officials finalize voting machine regulations. Until those standards are adopted by the state board, new machines can't be certified for sale in New York and counties can't begin to negotiate purchases with manufacturers.

 

Copyright 2005 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties in New York.

 

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