Election activists call for return to paper ballots

State, federal officials still sparring in court over how New York should upgrade its system


By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau

Nov. 8, 2007


ALBANY -- While the state and federal government battle in court over how and when New York should modernize its elections system, voting advocates offered an old-fashioned solution: paper ballots.


Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on new equipment, advocates said, markings on paper and a large force of elections workers can do the job.


"We can cast our votes by our own hand and count them ourselves," said Andrea Novick, a lawyer with Northeast Citizens for Responsible Media. She read a letter at the board's meeting urging it to eschew voting machines that other states have already found to have security flaws.


Other activists at the meeting agreed, but none of the four state election commissioners seemed to like the idea.


Instead, they moved into executive session to deal with the U.S. Justice Department's latest motion in a lawsuit against the state for failing to comply with the Help America Vote Act.


Federal lawyers are urging a U.S. District Court judge to demand New York get new voting machines even if they aren't up to New York's standards.


Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the board, said the commissioners are trying to fashion a response and believe they can submit a unified plan by Dec. 6. The commissioners, who submitted two differing plans Oct. 2 to the court, will also arrange a meeting with federal officials and county election boards to discuss New York's problems with honoring the mandate to make voting more accessible to disabled people while ensuring a paper trail.


As for the idea to scrap plans to buy new voting machines and hand-count paper ballots, Daghlian said: "It brings us back to the 19th century. ... I don't know if that is feasible."


"That would be a last resort, if we couldn't certify an electronic voting system of some kind," he added.


Dennis Karius, an activist with ARISE, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said the older method of voting makes sense and New Yorkers could be recruited to count ballots.


The state could offer incentives, he said, such as giving election workers credit toward jury duty service or offering school credits for students. The board has talked about jury duty credit, and recruiting election inspectors from public colleges.


James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at


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