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The Post-Standard

 

Voting machine schedule changed

 

Thursday, November 02, 2006

By John Mariani, Staff writer

 

The New York Board of Elections again has pushed back the timetable for replacing lever voting machines with electronic systems, putting more pressure on local election officials to have the new systems in place by the 2007 elections.

 

County election commissioners will have until Feb. 7 to place their orders with the state for new voting systems, about a month later than the old timeline, said Lee Daghlian, speaking for the state Board of Elections.

 

The state board pushed back the deadline Wednesday to give consultants more time to test and certify new systems, Daghlian said. A list of approved machines for local commissioners to order from should be ready by two weeks before the Feb. 7 deadline, he said.

 

The change will give local election boards less time to prepare the new systems and train their office staff and voters for 2007 balloting, said Helen Kiggins, Onondaga County's Republican election commissioner.

 

Even that depends on whether the state has a list ready by the end of January, she said.

 

"This is the same group that said a month ago that we would have a list by Dec. 19," Kiggins said. "I'm not all that optimistic we will see a list by then (late January), either."

 

New York was supposed to have replacements for its lever machines in place for 2006 elections as part of its implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act, but it has taken more than a year for state election officials to set rules for certifying new electronic voting systems and to complete testing.

 

Currently, five voting systems are under review. Three use optical scanners to process paper ballots filled out by voters. The other two use touch-screen technology, which under state law also must be backed up by a storable printout that voters can check before they complete their ballots.

 

Once the state receives the counties' choices, it will order machines, at this point by the end of February.

 

The speed with which the manufacturers deliver the machines will determine whether Onondaga County officials can get everything election-ready in time, Kiggins said.

 

Ready for which time is another question. The county board has been concentrating on the September 2007 primary and November 2007 general election. But state law also forbids lever machines to be used in any election after Jan. 1, leaving in question whether spring village elections and school district votes will have to be conducted by paper ballot.

 

"I'm sure the (state) Legislature will be informed by their constituents . . . and the school board associations that they can't do it," Daghlian said. That may prompt state lawmakers to grant exemptions to let lever machines be used, he said.

 

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

 

2006 The Post-Standard.