The Post-Standard


How Will New Yorkers Vote?

Machines on display in DeWitt; lobbyists' influence alleged


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

By Marnie Eisenstadt, Staff writer


The voting machines with the plaid curtains and red levers will be looking for new jobs come 2006 there's no question about that. The question is what will replace them, and the company with the answer stands to make millions.


But Bo Lipari, head of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, says money and corporate influence, not the needs of the voters, could direct the ultimate decision about how New Yorkers cast their ballots.


"Software engineers say you never buy version 1.0. Well, New York is considering spending $220 million on version 1.0," Lipari said, referring to touch-screen voting machines.


Though touch-screen machines are the front-runners in New York right now, they are both flawed and more expensive than the alternative, Lipari said.


During a news conference Tuesday at the Wyndham Hotel in DeWitt, where the state Board of Elections is having its annual meeting, Lipari lambasted the board and the Legislature for allowing lobbyists to sway them. Lobbyists for voting machine companies have spent $1.2 million trying to curry favor with state legislators.


Lipari's group and others, including The League of Women Voters, want the state to go with an optical scan system, which uses paper ballots similar to the sheets used for standardized tests. They would leave paper records that could be recounted if there is a dispute.


Touch-screen systems do not have paper ballots, but can generate reports on paper. But Lipari said there are problems with touch-screen systems that can leave votes uncounted or open to fraud.


In Miami, hundreds of votes cast using a touch-screen system were accidentally thrown out because of a computer coding problem. That community is considering scrapping its touch-screen machines and replacing them with an optical scan system, according to the Miami Herald.


Lipari said companies are pushing the touch-screen voting machines because they stand to make more money off them. Touch-screen units cost about $8,000, while optical scan machines cost between $5,500 and $6,000.


But Sen. John J. Flanagan, chairman of the Senate's committee on elections, said Lipari and the other detractors have not considered all the facts. He said the cost of purchasing and storing the ballots will make optical scan machines more costly in the long run.


Flanagan also tried to dispel the criticism of the lobbying by voting machine companies.


"This is an open process," he said.


Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, also said lobbying on behalf of voting machine companies means little to the board.


While politicians and activists were debating the merits of the different machines, Charles Reichardt and other voters with disabilities were testing the devices, which were set up in the hotel hallway. The Unadilla man, who is blind, said he found touch-screen machines and an optical scan machine that fit his needs. Both types had Braille options and devices that allowed him to listen to the ballot being read.


"All of the machines would allow me to cast a vote independently," he said. That's something he can't do on New York's lever machines.


"Privacy and independence are really out the window at this point," Reichardt said.


2005 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

Copyright 2005 All Rights Reserved.



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