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WXXI Local Stories

 

Voting Rights Groups Support Paper Ballots

 

Karen DeWitt

ALBANY, NEW YORK (2005-11-07)

 

This Election Day in New York may be the last time that voters use the old-fashioned mechanical lever machines. Under a new federal law, New York and other states have to modernize their voting systems. Some voting rights advocates say they want to make sure that the right voting machines are purchased.

 

At a rally on the Capitol steps, advocates said New York counties should buy the simplest voting machines possible, to reduce costs, and the chance of fraud. Bo Lipari, with New Yorkers for Verified Voting, says the companies that sell voting machines want counties to buy electronic touch screen machines, which he says are "expensive, unreliable, insecure (and) un-auditable".

 

Lipari's organization and other groups, including the League of Women Voters, favor the use of optical scan voting machines, which require voters to use paper and pencil to mark their ballots. The ballots are then fed into a computer. The other machines are computerized touch screen devices, known as DRE's for direct recording electronic systems.

 

To comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, the state legislature approved the use of both kinds of machines. But the advocates of the optical scan machines say the State Board of Elections is not doing enough to promote them, and that the three major voting machine companies may not offer the optical scan models for sale at all. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, an Ithaca Democrat, says she finds that unacceptable.

 

"We're not talking about copying machines here ," she said. "We're talking about the voting machines of this state. And this is a choice that should be the choice of the people, the choice of our counties, and not the choice of private companies."

 

A spokesman for the State Board of Elections, Lee Daghlian, says it's not up to the state board to tell the companies what kind of machines to sell. He says the Board plays a more neutral role, and is only supposed to certify that whatever machines the companies want to sell meet state standards.

 

"We don't feel that we can force a manufacturer to bring an optical scan machine to us if they don't wish to ," he said. "This is a free country."

 

Jonathan Freedman, with Sequoia, one of the three major voting machine companies interested in doing business in New York, says he doesn't know if his company will offer the optical scan voting machines. But he says there is good reason not to. He says the DRE machines are better suited to the state's needs and would actually save money in the long run.

 

Freedman say the optical scan machines don't comply with state requirements that disabled voters have equal access to private voting. He says there are also added costs for the printing of the paper ballots.

 

The advocates of the optical scan voting machines have also been critical of the pace of compliance with the new federal voting law. Most states have already purchased their new machines, and have been using them since at least last year. New York is the last state in the nation to comply with the new law. Daghlian, with the State Board of Elections, says he expects it all to work smoothly, if everyone adheres to a strict timetable.

 

Next year, when the new machines are to be used for the first time, voter turnout is expected to be higher than in 2005. There will be a statewide governor's race, and the vote for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Hillary Clinton.

 

Copyright 2005, WXXI

 

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