March 5, 2009


Schuyler vote machine conversion costs more

Officials say new machines need up to $100,000 in software


By Glenda Gephart



WATKINS GLEN - Schuyler County legislators are frustrated by federally ordered changes in voting procedures and are hoping that the state will help.


But state government itself is partially to blame for problems related to new voting machines, lawmakers said Wednesday at their Resolution Review Committee meeting.


"We're basically out of money from the federal grant, and we've tried to get relief from the state. But we've been thwarted on that end," said Legislator Dennis Fagan, R-Tyrone.


On Monday, at its regular monthly meeting, the county legislature will consider two resolutions about the voting machine dilemma: one directed to the state Legislature and one directed to the federal government. Both ask for more funding for local governments to replace existing machines.


County Administrator Timothy O'Hearn said the county has purchased 19 electronic voting machines to date. The cost was about $193,000. Of that amount, the county hopes to have to pay only about 5 percent, based on the federal dollars available through the state.


Fagan and O'Hearn said counties initially were led to believe that federal funds would cover all costs. Now, counties are finding out local taxpayers may have to pay for the software necessary to program the ballots. That expense could be upwards of $100,000.


Fagan said counties asked the state for permission to share the software. The request was denied, he said, "and vendors see no reason to cooperate with us."


Schuyler also requested to have a single, central location for a voting machine accessible to disabled voters. That, too, was denied, and one machine was purchased for each of the county's 17 polling places.


Those machines were available for use in the November election, but not one was used, officials said.


"This whole thing is a huge joke," Fagan said. "It's costing the counties and towns thousands of dollars needlessly. It's very frustrating."


The Help America Vote Act, known as HAVA, was enacted by Congress in October 2002 to help states replace antiquated voting systems and ensure access for disabled voters.


Schuyler County officials have said they would have preferred to keep the county's lever machines. Those machines probably will be used again in elections this year, Fagan said.


Monday's meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Human Services Complex on state Route 14 in Montour Falls.


Gannett New York Network: Binghamton | Elmira | Ithaca | Poughkeepsie | Rochester | Westchester | WGRZ-TV, Buffalo

Copyright 2009 Star-Gazette.