Nassau urged to buy election ballot scanners




August 26, 2005


Facing a federal mandate to change the way voters cast their ballots, Nassau should replace its old mechanical voting machines with new optical scanning equipment, several citizens' groups told county legislators this week.


The groups, including the Nassau League of Women Voters, were unanimous in urging the county to purchase optical scanners, which read paper ballots filled out by voters. They opposed the direct-record electronic voting system, in which votes are recorded on the computer when the screen or a button is touched.


The optical-scanner system "is reliable, auditable, mature and a cost-effective technology," said Bo Lipari, of Ithaca, who heads the statewide New Yorkers for Verified Voting.


Nassau must replace its lever-style machines by next year's primary election to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act or lose millions of dollars in federal aid.


The state Board of Elections will certify which machines meet New York's requirements that voters be able to view all races on one "full-face" ballot sheet and that there be a paper record of each vote.


Then each county will choose the system it wants. Although Nassau's two election commissioners will make the decision, the League of Women Voters and Legis. Lisanne Altmann (D-Great Neck) requested Monday's hearing for comments from citizens.


Testimony showed that both systems have problems. Votes cast into the DRE machines "are subject to being fixed by the vendor, by the maker, by a hacker, by a programmer," said Carol Berman, who has been on the state election board.


She said the optical scanning machines do not currently have the capacity to scan New York's large ballot. Lipari said the DRE vendors have yet to be able to produce a touch-screen system that can print a voter-verified paper ballot.


Legis. Roger Corbin (D-Westbury), whose wife is a member of the Nassau election board's selection committee, said he leaned toward the DRE system. But he said the state ultimately makes the decision.


Altmann said she will lobby for optical scanners. "I'm going to go with the recommendation of the League of Woman Voters," she said. "Based on the research I've done, it's a no-brainer."


Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.



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