Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Albany bureau chief
(November 8, 2005) — ALBANY — The state could be on the verge of making a historic mistake by failing to give counties a chance to buy voting machines that count paper ballots and forcing them to buy electronic machines, a group of lawmakers, union members and activists said Monday.
"We want our vote to count as we cast it. That's a guarantee electronic machines simply can't provide," Bo Lipari, head of a group known as New Yorkers for Verified Voting, told a group of about 50 people outside the state Capitol.
"This should be a choice for the people of New York state," said Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca. "I'm afraid counties won't have a choice."
At issue is the kind of machines the state should use instead of the lever devices, which are scheduled to be replaced next year.
The two main types of potential replacements are electronic machines, which work like bank ATMs, and optical scanners, which read paper ballots filled out by voters. The electronic machines cost about $8,000 each and the scanners $5,500. The state now has about 22,000 lever machines.
The federal government ordered voting systems modernized after the 2000 presidential-election fiasco in Florida. New York is eligible for about $220 million in federal money to replace machines.
But while new systems are already in place in most other states, the New York Legislature couldn't decide last year what kinds of machines to recommend, and passed a measure that counties be given the choice.
But as the deadline draws near, there is a chance that only electronic machines will be presented to the state Board of Elections to be certified. Critics claim that's because the voting-machine companies, which make both kinds of machines, want to sell only the more expensive ones. And there's no mandate to force them to offer optical scanners.
Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said it's beyond the board's power to require that the optical scanners be available. But he said state regulations do require that any machine chosen have a paper trail so that votes can be verified.
The electronic machines do have such a paper trail, said Jonathan Freedman of Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the companies that wants to sell machines in New York.
"Sequoia strongly believes that the (electronic system) are the better machines," he said.
The state Board of Elections expects to adopt regulations for new voting machines by the end of the year and start the certification and testing process for machines by early January. After new voting machines are selected and bought, they should be in use by the September 2006 primary elections.
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