Mixed Reviews For New Voting Machines


By Rich Place,

POSTED: November 4, 2009


A Jamestown woman receives assistance from her daughter while filling out the optical scan ballot at Hillcrest Baptist Church on Tuesday.  P-J photo by Robert Rizzuto


For years, voters in Chautauqua County needed to pull a few levers to choose which candidates they wanted in office.


This Election Day, however, the procedure to cast a ballot underwent a big change, as Chautauqua County joined 15 other counties in New York state by using the new optical scan paper ballot machine.


This year, the voting process looked similar to a high school multiple-choice test as voters used a pen or felt-tipped marker to shade in a box that corresponded to the candidate whom they wish to vote for before placing it in a machine that scanned the card and checked it for errors.


As Election Day progressed, some voters voiced concerns over the lack of privacy when voting. Instead of having a curtain draw behind a voter like the lever machines, this new method had voters filling out ballots at a booth protected by a barrier on three sides.


One local voter, a school teacher named Sue, said the new system does present a potential concern for voter privacy.


"As you walk up to the privacy booth to look for an open spot, you can see who people are voting for, if you wanted to," she said. "When I was filling out my ballot, I noticed there was someone behind me and it crossed my mind."


"There is a variety of reasons why (voters) don't feel comfortable, but I think it is a big switch from behind a curtain to behind a booth," said Brian Abram, Republican election commissioner. "I think some of that is just a big change in how you are handled."


Abram added the issue concerning privacy is not only in Chautauqua County, but has been brought up across the state. Democratic Election Commissioner Norman Green agreed that privacy is a concern and needs to be addressed.


"Statewide this is an issue that everyone is talking about - how to ensure the privacy of the voters," he said. "It is something we are working on and we are going to fix with future training."


For some voters, including an 87-year-old Jamestown resident named Josephine, privacy has never been a concern during the voting process.


"I vote for whoever I want and I don't care who sees it," she said. "I wasn't concerned that anyone was looking over my shoulder and I wouldn't much care if they tried to."


While privacy at the polls did raise eyebrows at times, other voters missed the old way of casting their ballot because they found the new machines more complicated and unfamiliar.


"I like the old way better," said Tina Huckabone after she cast her ballot. "I think you'll have more problems with having to fill in squares instead of using levers."


She added that privacy wasn't a concern for her.


Patrick Post of Jamestown said he didn't have a problem at all with the new voting system.


"The only problem I had was that I forgot my glasses," he said laughing. When asked about privacy, he responded by saying, "I was fine."


Abram said there was "some human error and some technical errors" with the new machines, but that the problems were corrected quickly and without long-term effects. Green said the results were coming in slower than planned because some election inspectors didn't return the data disk necessary to process the election results.


Because the new machines can handle much more than the 1,000-vote maximum the old machines topped out at, polling sites were consolidated and many voters found themselves voting at new locations. This can lead to longer wait times, although it presumably costs less and takes fewer people to operate a polling station. Neither Abram or Green said any problems were directly reported to them concerning longer lines.


"I did visit a couple polling sites myself and everybody seemed to say that it was going quite well," said Abram. "In the old system you did stand in line and wait for your turn to go behind the curtain. There were slight delays but the weren't delays that were anywhere near the level they were used to from the past."


Statistics show that voters were not detered from voting by the new machines however, as early estimates show roughly 35 percent of the population came out to vote Tuesday according to Green.


"That has become the normal," he said. "It will hover somewhere around 40 percent, and so that is comparable to recent past executive elections."


The voting machines were purchased by the Chautauqua County Board of Elections last year to comply with the federal Help Americans Vote Act. Election officials announced in May that the new machines would be in place for Election Day, and people have had a chance to see the machines at various events throughout the summer. The League of Women Voters and the Board of Elections had introduced the new machines at the County Fair, the Fredonia Farm Festival, the Dunkirk Public Library, the Immanuel Lutheran Church and various senior centers.


Reporters Robert Rizzuto and Nick Dean contributed to this report.


Member Comments


SilverBear 11-05-09 9:53 AM


To NYNana, No, you can not qualify for an absentee ballot just because you don't like the new voting system. However, the qualifications to vote by absentee ballot are: 1-Unavoidably absent from your county or, if a resident of the city of New York absent from said city, on Election Day; 2-Unable to appear at the polls due to illness or disability; 3-a patient in a Veterans’ Administration Hospital; 4-detained in jail awaiting Grand Jury action or confined in prison after conviction for an offense other than a felony; I believe that many seniors might qualify under the disability or illness clause. It might be worth it just to check it out.


Brent1 11-04-09 6:59 PM

            let me explain a fact... I like the ole AVM machines...


dengo45 11-04-09 5:09 PM

            Let me explain the facts. 1. AVM is now Sequoia Voting Systems, The same company that made the voting machines. 2. The old lever machines where big heavy and could break down "replacement parts are no longer available. 3. Sequoia makes a computerized touch screen machine that the state of New York didn't want


Brent1 11-04-09 3:53 PM

            I liked the ole AVM machines... and it put people to work in Jamestown...


Bcle99 11-04-09 2:33 PM

            I wonder how much this new voting process cost the NY tax payers, what a waste of money and paper. This was ridiculous. Our State Gov. is whinning over the budget deficit (and they want to raise taxes and services) and these yahoos come up with an idea like this. How many trees were leveled for this ???? Our Gov. needs a wakeup call. Middle america is had enough !!!!!!


NYNana 11-04-09 2:21 PM

            Can voters who don't like the new system get an absentee ballot for that reason? Personally, I would rather have a paper ballot. The new machines are not anything I will ever trust.


Jtanner 11-04-09 1:32 PM

            There was not privacy at all. Not to mention that the privacy stands had wheels and wobbled to much as people tried to use them. I'd hate to see anyone not vote. That is by no means the answer.


SilverBear 11-04-09 1:20 PM

            I think that qualifying senior's and others should look into getting an absentee ballot for the next election. They are mailed to your home. You fill them out and mail then you mail them back in. It is simple and easy to use. I would hate to see senior's give up their right to vote simply because they are uncomfortable with this new system.


cares2much 11-04-09 12:30 PM

            I may no longer vote either. Maybe that's what they want. I have always believed that the system is rigged any way so why bother???


cares2much 11-04-09 12:27 PM

            What was wrong with the old system. Not that I really care what people think or if they know who I vote for, but it was awkward for me to try and slide your ballot out of that so called "privacy shield" so I can only imagine how the elderly managed that with their various disabilitys. You may find that many of them will just give up and not bother voting. People don't like change to begin with and when they take our privacy away it is really discouraging. The is no longer a free country with "big brother" literally looking over our shoulder.


IamAno1MOM 11-04-09 11:59 AM

            I agree, Paper ballots~and no privacy while the helper watches you load your paper in the machine. Money not well spent!


Jtanner 11-04-09 10:18 AM

            After working at the polls yesterday I can say without a doubt that this new voting process is completely wastefull. We had a period of time where the machine kicked back every other ballot that was submitted. The older voters were particularly upset. I heard on numerous occasions senior state that this would be the last time they vote. Change is always hard on people, but it is so much harder when the change is not for the better.


kiddingme 11-04-09 9:31 AM

            I thought we were supposed to be going "green" with everything. I don't see how using all that paper to vote with is green.