October 4, 2007
Sharp divide over voting machines
Board of Elections partisan split could leave decision to judge
By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
ALBANY -- A federal judge may be forced to choose the type of voting machines purchased in New York because the state's four-member Board of Elections this week entered differing, partisan plans, failing to resolve the issue on its own.
Up against a court deadline to show how New York will make voting accessible to handicapped voters, the two Democrats and the two Republicans on the board gave opposing proposals.
"They couldn't agree," said Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the elections board. "I don't think this is dysfunction, this is something that's difficult to agree to because we're under court order."
U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe could decide whether the state spends all its money on computer-like voting machines many counties like or the optical scan machines that several nonprofit advocates are calling for.
The board's Democrats propose requiring all counties to purchase ballot-marking devices for every polling place for the 2008 election, a move that could force counties to acquire optical scan voting machines to handle paper ballots.
However, advocates of optical scanning machines fear the board is also going to allow touch-screen computer-like machines, resulting in those machines being the type all New York voters would use.
Republicans call for doubling the number of ballot-marking machines in each county in 2008. One or more was installed in each county for last year's election to comply with a Department of Justice suit against the state for failing to honor terms of the Help America Vote Act. By just doubling the number of machines, counties would spend far less than if they had to install a marking device in each polling place, thereby making it possible to afford computer-like voting machines by 2009 instead of optical scanners.
The federal government is requiring the state to find ways to replace lever voting machines.
Elections commissioners from across the state have urged the state board not to force them to make huge financial commitments to any one voting system, especially since the state hasn't certified the various machines they have to choose from.
Bo Lopari, executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, which favors optical scanning machines, said the board is putting New York in a precarious position. The judge could not only decide how many marking machines are needed but could go all the way to deciding how the entire system will be outfitted, he said.
"It's a typical example of New York state bipartisan dysfunction," said Lopari. "Here we have the Democrats and Republicans unable to agree on what should be a relatively simple plan ... I'm really outraged the two parties can't get their stuff together and agree to a plan. This can throw the entire decision to the court."
James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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