Vote of no confidence

Keep old lever voting machines for now, until new technology is perfected


May 8, 2007


Last week, a judge in Albany rejected a quixotic effort by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to fend off the trade of lever voting machines for a technology to be named later. But other events have rendered the legal defeat mostly moot: We are certain to be voting on lever machines this year and almost certainly will be again next year.


In fact, we should all be rooting for the antiquated but mostly reliable lever machines to be what's recording our votes in next February's presidential primary and in the November general election. There's just too much unsettling news about the electronic voting machines that would replace the levers.


Take Florida. Its punch card system threw the 2000 presidential election into chaos, starting the momentum toward new voting machines. Last November, 18,000 votes mysteriously did not register in the 13th congressional district election there. That cast a cloud of suspicion over the new touch-screen voting machines that produced the unexplained result. Now, Florida's legislature has voted to scrap touch-screen technology and move to paper ballots counted by optical scanners.


In New York, the situation has been messy, too. Our State Legislature took forever to adopt a law implementing the Help America Vote Act of 2002. The Justice Department sued. The result was a settlement that provided a temporary solution: a limited number of ballot-marking devices to help handicapped voters in last year's primary. We'll see something like that again this year. But the vast majority of voters will use lever machines, despite the federal deadline.


The big problem has been the snail's pace of the state Board of Elections as it tries to certify a list of machines from which counties can choose. After the federal Election Assistance Commission declined to accredit the testing firm the state had hired, New York has to find a new firm. As a result, it will be months before the state certifies machines. Then the counties will have to make their choice of approved devices, buy them, receive shipment, test them and train poll workers.


So new machines by February are out of the question. And it would be madness to make counties put new machines into service for the first time in a presidential general election. So, although Levy's lawsuit failed, his hesitations about the new technology are amply warranted.


Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.