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Rockland to look at optical scanner voting machines




September 2, 2005


Now that New Yorkers will no longer be pulling levers at the polls, counties must decide how its residents will cast their votes and Rockland is researching the options.


A special election oversight committee, put together by the county Legislature, will meet Sept. 8 for a presentation on optical scanner voting machines, which electronically tally paper ballots.


Gov. George Pataki signed legislation July 12 that gives counties the jurisdiction to choose their own voting machines from a yet-to-be released list of state-approved machines.


Legislator Denise Kronstadt, D-Piermont, who heads the 12-member Special Committee on Election Modernization Oversight, said she wanted the county to look at several types of machines that could be included on the state's list.


"Voting and voting machines are a very basic part of our democratic process," Kronstadt said. "We need to view everything to decide what's best for the county."


The move toward new voting machines is part of the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act to fund and enforce new voting standards. The new machines must be in place by the first federal election of 2006.


Vendors have demonstrated six machines, including an optical scanner, in the Board of Elections office this summer. The Sept. 8 presentation will give a more detailed look at the machine's capabilities, Kronstadt said.


The optical scanner reads paper ballots. Each voter is given a sheet with blank "bubbles" next to each candidate or question. Voters fill in the bubble of their choice, then the machine scans the sheets, which drop into a locked box.


Kronstadt said she hoped to have the same type of presentation for the other machines.


Bo Lipari of the grass-roots group New Yorkers for Verified Voting is an advocate of the optical scanners and will be the presenter Sept. 8. Lipari said he and his organization do not support Direct Recording Electronic voting machines, which use touch screens to cast votes.


The other five machines examined by the county have been DREs.


Lipari said the paper trail left by DREs, a requirement under state law, was inadequate and that computers don't always work properly.


"It's a technology that really cannot guarantee our right to vote," he said.


Committee member Bill Mullin, an advocate with the Rockland Independent Living Center, has been in a wheelchair for more than two decades. His spinal injury prevents him from reaching the levers on the older voting machines so he needs to have someone in the voting booth with him.


Mullin said he was hoping the county would use touch-screen machines, which would give him the opportunity to vote in private for the first time in 26 years.


The optical scanner machines, he said, would give him trouble because he needs a special instrument to write.


Legislature Chairwoman Harriet Cornell said she hoped the committee's research would put an end to frustrations like those of disabled voters.


"The purpose is to have fair elections where every vote is tallied, where there is no confusion on the part of those who vote," she said.


Board of Elections Commissioner Ann Marie Kelly, who will make the decision on the county voting machines, along with fellow Commissioner Joan Silvestri, said she personally preferred DREs.


The county has used optical scanner machines for years to count absentee ballots, she said, and they have their share of problems, such as when two ballots stick together.


Touch screens, she said, are familiar to voters who routinely use them at places like ATMs.


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



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