Oversight of school voting sought

Activists want state Elections Board to take control of procedure from state Education Department


By RICK KARLIN, Capitol bureau

May 12, 2007


A group of voting machine activists wants to take the regulation of voting machines used in school board races out of the hands of the state Education Department and put it under the purview of the state Board of Elections.


"There's a giant loophole in education law that essentially allows a board of education to choose any machine they want, regardless of what the Board of Elections has or hasn't approved," said Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, a watchdog group that is following the state's lengthy struggle to modernize voting machines.


The loophole, Lipari said, became apparent earlier this month when the Troy school board decided to use voting machines supplied by Liberty Election Systems for Tuesday's school board and budget vote.


Last year, one of the old lever action machines long used by the district malfunctioned, and school board candidate Ilene Clinton recorded only two votes in her home district. She lost the election by 95 votes.


Wishing to avoid a replay of that problem, the Troy school board said they would use the Dutch-made machines offered by Liberty this year.


They can be used under education law, which governs school board races. But Lipari and others, such as the League of Women Voters, noted that the machines haven't yet been certified by the state Board of Elections.


Groups such as Verified Voting and the League of Women Voters are working with Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, D-Queens, who heads the Assembly's education committee, to introduce legislation that would place school district machines under the control of state election laws, rather than education law.


"Whenever there is a reference in education law to voting machines it would say approved through the New York Board of Elections," said Aimee Allaud, the League of Women Voters' election specialist.


The dispute comes as New York is struggling to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act. Passed in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election, HAVA mandated that states modernize their voting machines.


The Empire State already has been sued by the federal government for its slowest-in-the-nation status to adopt the new machines, although further action is being held off as the state continues to work toward getting new machines in place.


Lobbying by voting machine makers has been intense, and Liberty President Robert Witko has said that using his machines in school district races is a way to get people used to the new devices. Liberty provided voting machines for a school board race last year in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County.


Rick Karlin can be reached at 454-5758 or by e-mail at


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