Counties should seek public input on what kind of new voting machines to use.
July 7, 2005
Here are the estimated savings in local counties if they select optical scan voting machines over the touch-screen models:
# Chemung: $531,880.
# Schuyler: $14,120.
# Steuben: $335,640.
# Tioga: $16,820.
# Yates: $51,300.
Get ready to say goodbye to those old lever-style voting machines. Starting next year, they will be antiques of democracy.
What will replace them? That's a decision county boards of elections will make. But before they decide between paper or touch screen, county officials ought to test public reaction to the new equipment available.
The New York Legislature in its just-concluded session gave counties the right to choose between the optical scan and touch screen machines rather than dictate a one-machine-fits-all policy. For optical scan proponents such as Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verifiable Voters, having a choice is a chance for him to make a convincing case for scannable paper ballots that go through machines taking up less space and costing less than touch screen models.
For many counties where storage is an issue, the optical scan is a good choice. In Chemung where as many as five voting precincts use one building, a single optical scan machine can do the work of five touch screen models plus the system retains a paper record of each vote.
But touch screen advocates, many of whom are experienced at running elections, cite more privacy, speed of voting, lower printing costs and less storage of paper ballots as reasons to go with the touch screen versions.
New Yorkers for Verifiable Voters have done some math that make a compelling argument for optical scan. In Chemung and Steuben counties combined, the group estimates optical scan machines would cost the state about $900,000 less and statewide could save about $82 million if every county used them.
However, each county has the freedom to decide on whether voters will mark a piece of paper or put their finger to a glass screen. That choice is what we recommended during the legislative session, and now that counties have that power, they should use it wisely by doing some field research before the 2006 elections when these machines are likely to show up.
Demonstrations at shopping malls or even at polling places this fall could give county officials a sense of what machines voters prefer. With that feedback, they can decide what best suits their local voters, county budgets and storage facilities.
Try before buying. It's good way to make a smarter choice.
Copyright © 2005 Star-Gazette.
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