New voting machines 'easy to use'


County contribued $75,000 toward purchasing 160 machines




Posted Sep 09, 2009 @ 04:53 PM

Last update Sep 10, 2009 @ 02:24 PM



Transporting 160 electronic voting machines to districts across Oneida County will be the major concern as the county prepares to introduce the machines for the 2010 elections, county election officials said Wednesday.


It also will be important to make sure voters know how to use the machines, however, so the county Board of Elections invited Marcy residents to try the machines for themselves during an open house at its offices Wednesday evening.


Marcy voters will be testing the machines during the primary election on Tuesday and the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3. The machines will replace lever units in all districts next year in compliance with the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002.


Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Kathleen Perez and Republican Commissioner Pamela Mandryck said the voting process is just as easy with the new machines, and may even be faster.


When arriving to vote, people must pick up a ballot and fill out the bubble sheet in a private booth, the election commissioners said. The ballots then are scanned into the voting machine and submitted.


“You just walk in, feed it in, cast your ballot,” Perez said.


“It should make it a lot easier for someone to come up and vote,” Mandryck said.


Marcy was selected as a test site for the system because it has a self-contained legislative district and is reasonably close to the Board of Elections, the election commissioners said.


The only primary races in Marcy will be for the Republican, Conservative and Independence positions in the county surrogate court judge race. The candidates in the race are Louis Gigliotti, Michael Laucello and Claudia Tenney.


Transporting the machines


The 160 new machines cost more than $1 million, but about 95 percent of that was paid for by state and federal funding, county election commissioners said. Oneida County has contributed about $75,000, they said.


Some municipalities keep the current lever machines at their own facilities, but Oneida County will be required to store all of the electronic machines, Mandryck said. This could result in additional transportation costs, but the new machines are easier to transport, so it also could even out overall, she said.


Another aspect of concern about moving the machines is that the state wants them transported to and from the voting sites in the same day, Mandryck said.


“As a county, that isn’t practical,” she said.


The state hasn’t told the county what to do with the old machines that are being replaced, the election commissioners said. But both old and new machines are stored at 901 Broad St. in Utica, and there is plenty of room, they said.


Using the machines


Local residents who tested the new machines Wednesday seemed pleased with the new technology, and Board of Elections personnel were on hand to answer any questions.


After voters filled in their choices for categories such as “best ice cream flavor” and “best movie” on the test ballots, they fed them into the voting machines and followed simple on-screen directions to submit their votes.


During the primaries, it’s important that voters make sure they pick up the ballot for the proper political party, Perez said.


Mandryck explained that ballots can be placed in the machine with either side up, and that the machine informs voters if the ballot was scanned successfully. If there is a problem, such as a mistake in the number of candidates voted for, voters will be able to retrieve their ballots and make changes, she said.


The only controls voters will have to work with are a green button marked “cast” that submits the final vote and a red button marked “return” that expels the ballot for corrections. Each machine also is equipped to assist those who can’t fill in a ballot by hand due to a disability.


Karen McBride of the local League of Women Voters chapter said she was very pleased with what she saw during the demonstrations.


“It seems quite easy to use,” she said. “The ballot is a nice layout, and the instructions are easy to follow. The actual feeding the ballot into the machine couldn’t be more simple.”


While voters can take as long as they want in the privacy booth area, the actual submission process only takes about 30 seconds.


With state guidelines specifying one privacy booth per 250 registered voters at a polling site, and each voting machine capable of recording up to 4,000 votes, Mandryck said she expects the new machines to cut down the time each person needs to spend to cast their vote.


“I don’t think you’re going to have the lines that you may have had,” she said.


The machine also keeps three versions of the voting record:


* The actual paper ballots that are stored in a secure portion of the machine.


* A memory card that saves the scanned images.


* A receipt of the tabulated results for each race that is printed when the polls close.

Perez and Mandryck demonstrated that as well Wednesday, printing off the results of the ballots cast as of 7 p.m. Vanilla won 6-3.


For additional information about the voting machines, call the county Board of Elections at 798-5761 or 798-5763.



While much about the voting process will remain the same once the new machines are debuted statewide in 2010, some aspects will be different. A quick look at what to expect:


Present: You pull a lever, and the machine marks the ballot.

Future: You’ll fill out a ballot by hand and scan it into the machine.


Present: The entire voting procedure happens behind a curtain.

Future: Ballots will be filled out in a privacy booth, similar to a library cubicle, and then brought to a voting machine.


Present: Each voting machine can handle 800 votes.

Future: Each voting machine will handle 4,000 votes