New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com
Albany must act to help N.Y.ers vote
Thursday, May 5th, 2005
After the Bush-Gore meltdown in Florida in 2000, Congress set new election standards and came up with money to help states upgrade their voting systems. Four years later, New York is the only state that has failed to comply with the law, putting $220 million in federal funds at risk.
Now, after extended haggling, the Legislature has managed to resolve the simple issues, such as which types of identification will be acceptable at polling places. Lawmakers have also determined that New York will continue to be - you guessed it - the only state to use a full-face ballot, showing every candidate in every race on one sheet. (Why? So that every politician is guaranteed the front page.)
But at this late date, lawmakers shamefully haven't settled the most important issue: which voting machines New Yorkers will use. Beset by lobbyists hawking a multitude of electronic systems, they dither. It's time to make the call so local officials can be prepared for next year's statewide elections. The city Board of Elections had hoped to try out new machines in this fall's mayoral contest. Thanks to the Legislature, the board will have to learn on the fly in 2006.
The Help America Vote Act permits two types of machines: ATM-style touch-screen computers or paper ballots that are optically scanned. Optical scanning is the better choice. A voter fills out a paper ballot the way a Lotto player fills out a ticket and feeds it into a scanner. The votes are tallied, and ballots are deposited in a locked compartment, where they can be hand-counted in a close race.
A study of voting systems by Caltech and MIT concluded that optical scanning produced fewer errors and votes lost. Experience is proving the study right. In Ohio as well as in Florida's largest county, Miami-Dade, election officials first went with ATM-style voting, but they are now considering switching to optical scanning.
Scanners minimize the possibility of hacking because they don't tie into a central computer, and they are more economical than ATM-style machines. To cast ballots on one of those gizmos, voters stand before a screen, punching in their selections while others wait. To use an optical scanner, a voter simply slips a ballot into the machine and is done in seconds. So polling places require fewer machines, cutting purchase costs. A coalition of civic groups estimates that the tab for optical scanners would be about half that of the ATMs. Easier to use, more reliable and cheaper. Optical scanners get our vote.
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