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Voters with disabilities can't use paper ballots

Saturday, October 13, 2007

JOHN MARIANI

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

 

Voters with disabilities in Onondaga County will not have a ballot marker available this year.

 

Election commissioners Ed Szczesniak and Helen Kiggins said they decided against deploying the machine, which helps people vote on paper ballots, because of legal confusion surrounding the use of the device. They briefed disability advocates Thursday on their ruling.

 

The perplexity stems from New York state's ongoing inability to replace its disabled-unfriendly lever voting machines with electronic systems that let disabled voters cast ballots with the same privacy as typical voters. That's a key goal of the federal Help America Vote Act. New York was supposed to make the conversion several years ago, but has been unable to certify replacements for use.

 

Last year, a federal judge let the state use lever machines through Aug. 31 of this year. The order also allowed counties to set up as few as one ballot marker in a central location and to allow those ballots to be counted as though they had been cast at the voter's home polling place.

 

About six weeks ago, the state Legislature passed a law that lets the counties use lever machines and ballot markers in this year's elections, too.

 

The problem, the commissioners said, is that the federal judge has not extended his order. Without that extension, they said, they don't think it would be legal to count the votes cast using the central ballot marker. If those votes can't be counted, they reasoned, there's no point in having people vote using the marker.

 

That means that disabled voters who need help will go back to what they did before last year - have someone come into the voting booth with them, or vote by absentee ballot.

 

A dozen voters, not all of them with disabilities, used the marker set up last year at the Board of Elections, Kiggins and Szczesniak said. Three cast votes in the September primary, nine in the general election.

 

John Mariani can be reached at 470-3105 or jmariani@syracuse.com.

 

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