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The Post-Standard

Friday, February 09, 2007

 

Voting Mess

State's foot-dragging could lead to ballot confusion, delays

 

Given the advances in technology today, it's hard to believe New York voters could have to revert to dropping paper ballots into a box in the next election.

 

But it could happen this fall, according to the state Board of Elections. If it did, votes would be counted by hand, and results would not be fully tabulated for days or weeks.

 

Under the federal Help America Vote Act, the state should have had new, handicapped-accessible machines in place by now. But because of the state Legislature's inexcusable foot-dragging, it's too late to select and purchase machines and train elections officials and voters how to use them by fall. The state has banned the use of the traditional lever machines effective Sept. 1, so unless it rescinds that ban there will be no alternative in place.

New York is the only state that hasn't replaced its existing machines to meet the federal requirement. That tardiness could lose it $50 million in federal funding.

 

The state still has not even selected the vendors and voting machines from which county boards of elections can choose. Until it does, counties are stuck in neutral.

 

After the state finally hired a firm to certify various machines as qualified, the firm itself was decertified by the federal government. It will be June before the list of acceptable machines and vendors is available.

 

What county elections officials can do now, though, is re-evaluate the potential choices. And a growing chorus of voices is determining that optical scanning of paper ballots is more reliable than the alternative, electronic touch-screen machines.

 

Even Florida, which botched its 2000 election results, leaving hanging chads and confusion, plans to scrap the $32.5 million it already has spent on touch-screen machines in favor of optical scan machines for the 2008 presidential election.

 

In November's elections in Sarasota County, Florida found that more than 18,000 voters using touch-screen machines did not have their votes recorded in a congressional race.

 

While Florida's rejection of touch screens is considered the strongest statement any state has made against touch-screen voting, other states, including Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, also are changing course.

 

It's time elections officials in New York do the same.

 

It is already too late to prevent a glaring and unnecessary side effect of the state's dithering. Because voters won't be using new machines this year, there will be no opportunity prior to the 2008 presidential elections for voters to get used to them and for elections officials to fine-tune them if any problems arise.

 

That's all the more reason to work diligently now to get the best system possible in place to protect America's most important franchise.

 

2007 The Post-Standard.