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Voting advocate pushes for new system in Madison County

She warns Madison County supervisors not to keep lever machines.


Friday, March 13, 2009

By Alaina Potrikus

Staff writer


The leader of a state voters group is trying make sure Madison County isn't tempted to renege on its move to a new kind of voting machine.


Wanda Warren Berry, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, spoke to the county's Board of Supervisors this week, warning officials not to be dissuaded from the new system by advocates who want to bring back the lever machines.


The Hamilton resident and retired Colgate University professor was one of the biggest supporters of the paper ballot and optical scanner system that Madison County, and most other New York municipalities, chose to improve the accessibility, verifiability and auditability of their elections and comply with the Help America Vote Act.


Berry said a Downstate movement - Re-Media Election Transparency Coalition - has been spreading "misleading" arguments that New York does not have to replace its lever machines. The coalition's Web site includes a petition, links to articles about voting machine failures and a form letter that can be sent to elected officials urging them to consider keeping the lever machines.


"In this time of economic crisis, it is not responsible to move ahead to computerize our elections," the letter reads. "In other jurisdictions, computerization has raised the cost of running elections. Now is the wrong time to take actions that will end up requiring us to raise taxes or take monies away from other essential services. We already have an affordable, secure, reliable voting system that doesn't need to be replaced."


The coalition is getting some support at the county level. At the end of last year, Dutchess County passed a resolution asking the state to allow the county to continue using its lever machines, which the county believed to be "in the best interest of the public" given the cost of replacements; Columbia and Ulster counties followed with similar resolutions last month. On Monday, the Schuyler County Legislature passed a resolution asking to keep its lever machines in the face of software licensing costs for the optical scanners.


But Berry's group and the state's League of Women Voters are disputing the coalition's claims, citing a federal court order requiring New York to replace the lever machines because they don't meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act.


"I know how fond many of you were of the lever machines - and how frustrating the long process of getting scanners certified has been," Berry said Tuesday to legislators in Wampsville. "But the lever machines do not measure up to the standards for election integrity that most people now hold and that New York's Election Reform and Modernization Act requires."


Madison County bought more than three dozen of the units for its polling places at a cost of $11,500 apiece, and hopes to deploy the system as soon as state officials certify the machines. In the meantime, elections commissioners have been using both the lever machines and a ballot-marking device that allows disabled voters to use a keypad and headphones or sip-and-puff equipment to cast ballots independently.


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