Speakers vote 'no' on electronic ballots


Testimony at state hearing finds voter-rights advocates leery of ATM-style machines for elections


By NICK REISMAN, Gannett News Service

December 17, 2005


ALBANY -- Voter-rights advocates criticized proposed changes in elections regulations on Friday, saying that they cater to private companies and ignore the public's needs.



Most who testified at a state hearing said New York should choose an "optical scan" voting machine system in which voters pencil in ovals to select choices, much like a standardized school test, then feed their ballots into a scanner. It's cheaper and more reliable than ATM-style machines, they said.


Also, critics charged that electronic voting machines don't provide a "paper trail" to verify votes and could be tampered with.


"It's not the voting that's democracy, it's the counting," William Sell, a Public Employees Federation representative said. "Government cannot allow the outsourcing of our votes to private corporations."


The comments came as part of a public comment period on rule changes mandated by the Help America Vote Act, a federal law requiring states to update election laws and voting machines. Lever-style machines are being phased out because they aren't sufficiently accessible to the handicapped.


Critics have charged that the state Board of Elections is trying to rush through the review process to purchase ATM-style machines that can't be trusted to accurately register votes.


Aimee Allaud of the League of Women Voters said the new regulations, published by the board last month, had a distinct bias in favor of the computerized machines. She said that the rules place more scrutiny on paper-based ballots and too much trust in a computer, since the computer program's source code isn't made public.


Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said that the source code is in escrow and available for system maintenance.


The board has refused to mandate that companies offer optical-scan machines, saying it doesn't want to tell them what to do. Activists fear manufacturers will put forward only a more expensive electronic option.


All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2005, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.



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