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Critics wary of new voting devices

Activists fear the electronic machines -- to be used May 15 by the Troy school district -- are uncertified


By JAY JOCHNOWITZ, State editor

First published: Wednesday, April 25, 2007


ALBANY -- The Troy City School District's plan to use electronic voting machines next month is under fire from critics who say voters would be using uncertified, potentially vulnerable devices.


Election reform activists also see it as an end run around the state election law and say they are looking at legal options. They worry that the machine's distributors are using school districts -- which aren't subject to state election law -- to introduce their devices to voters without rigorous testing.


"We are outraged that the school superintendent and current school board would allow a budget vote ... to use uncertified voting machines," said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the state League of Women Voters. "No one should be asked to vote in this democracy on voting machines that are not secure."


The district says the machines are secure and reliable, and that it's proceeding with the May 15 vote with voters' best interests in mind.


"We are confident it will be a good, fair election," said Caroline Boardman, the district's community resource coordinator. "We feel that we've done everything that we can do -- and beyond."


The distributor of the machines, Albany-based Liberty Election Systems, acknowledged it sees the situation as a chance to get voters using its devices. Robert Witko, Liberty's president, said the firm did similar work in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, last year and is also working with South Glens Falls and Queensbury. He hopes for more such opportunities, calling it a way of introducing the new technology incrementally.


"It's a great steppingstone," he said.


The decision followed the breakdown last year of one of 10 mechanical lever-style machines the district normally uses. Wary of using the old machines again, which the state wants to replace across New York, the district's clerk, Eva DeFiglio, asked the Rensselaer County Board of Elections if it could supply a newer, electronic model, according to Boardman and county Democratic Elections Commissioner Edward McDonough.


The board had no alternatives to offer. The state Board of Elections has yet to certify any electronic machines, so with few exceptions, most of the state uses the lever devices. New York has already missed deadlines under the Help America Vote Act to modernize its system.


McDonough said he suggested the district approach Liberty Election Systems in Albany, which county commissioners had heard helped Salamanca last year.


Liberty offered to supply ten machines, provide two days of training for inspectors and the public, and handle absentee ballots, all for free. The district accepted.


"We welcome the opportunity to help restore some confidence in the voting process," Witko said.


Boardman said the machines are federally certified, although the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, which does federal certification, has not approved Liberty's devices, which are made by a Dutch company, NEDAP.


The machines have been certified by the National Association of State Election Directors, which formerly handled the federal approvals, but only to 2002 federal standards, not more recent 2005 standards which included security issues, critics note.


McDonough noted that school district elections are governed by state education law, not election law, so the lack of state Board of Elections certification is not an issue, he said.


Critics, however, are giving the laws a closer read, and plan to make their concerns known at the district's May 2 budget hearing.


Bartoletti and Bo Lipari, a software engineer who works with New Yorkers for Verified Voting and the League of Women Voters, voiced concern about jumping ahead with the technology before the state Board of Elections is satisfied with the machines' security and reliability.


"It's a blatant end run around the state certification process," he said.


Lipari also noted the technicians training people on the machines will be Dutch, not American.


"Are we prepared to have foreign nationals running our elections?" he said.


Witko, however, said that ultimately it will be district staffers who will prepare and handle the machines for the actual voting.


Jay Jochnowitz can be reached at 454-5424 or by e-mail at


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