Staten Island Advance

November 8, 2005

Section: A, Page A09

 

Reform coalition gives support to optical-scan system for voting

 

Devices, which read paper ballots, are preferable to touch-screen machines, group contends

 

By Michael Scholl

ADVANCE CITY HALL BUREAU

 

The voting machines that thousands of Staten Islanders will use in today's

election should be replaced by an optical system that scans paper ballots, a

coalition of election reform groups said yesterday.

 

New Yorkers for Verified Voting and the New York League of Women Voters say

optical-scan voting machines are less vulnerable to fraud than the ATM-style

"touch screen" electronic voting machines that are also on the market.

 

"Voting machines are the basic building block of our democratic process and

we must insist they be reliable and their results verifiable and

transparent," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), who joined officials

from the two reform groups and their supporters at a news conference

yesterday in front of City Hall.

 

A state law approved in late June requires the city Board of Elections and

other local election boards across the state to replace their aging

"lever-action" mechanical voting machines with more modern devices.

 

The law allows the boards to choose either an optical-scan system, which

requires voters to fill out paper ballots, or a touch-screen system in which

voters record their votes electronically by touching a computer screen or by

pressing a button on a keyboard.

 

The city Board of Elections has yet to decide between the two kinds of

machines.

 

Supporters of optical-scan systems say the paper ballots used in such

systems create a "paper trail" that can be audited after an election to make

sure reported results are accurate. They say touch-screen computer systems

cannot be easily audited and are therefore highly vulnerable to computer

"hackers" who could seek to manipulate results.

 

Optical-scan machines are also cheaper and easier to operate than the

touch-screen variety, according to Susan Greenhalgh of New Yorkers for

Verified Voting.

 

"We want New York to have a choice and to make the right choice," said Ms.

Greenhalgh, who accused the manufacturers of touch-screen machines of

engaging in an intense lobbying campaign in an effort to get local election

boards to buy their products.

 

The state law requiring the elimination of mechanical voting machines was

passed in response to the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which

Congress approved in 2002 to address the issues raised by the 2000

presidential election debacle in Florida.

 

New York State is slated to receive $221 million in HAVA funding to help

improve its election process, but it could lose some of that federal money

if it does not replace its voting machines in time for next year's primary

elections. Compliance with that deadline is unlikely because the replacement

process has been beset by delays.

 

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