N.Y.: Use old voting machines


Monday, October 6
HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — For the upcoming elections, Rensselaer County voters are advised to use the old lever voting machines, as opposed to the newer ones that will be required to be the only machines in service by next year, Edward McDonough, the Democratic elections commissioner for the Rensselaer County Board of Elections, said.

While the new computerized machines will be available for use, should a voter desire to use one, they are still due for some modification after the next election. As they are now, McDonough said, the machines are only "ballot marking devices."

Voting process

For a ballot marking device, a blank piece of paper is fed into the machine while the user wears a set of headphones. The headphones provide auditory instructions to the voter, telling them which key they need to push for whichever candidate they choose to vote for. The machine prints the voters selections onto the blank paper and drops it into a locked box within the machine so it can be counted, McDonough said.

Next the year, the machines will be altered slightly so that they scan a ballot that has been pre-printed for the voter, which he or she will mark in the privacy of a booth, he said. He added that the cost of the conversion was already covered under the purchase price, and that it was as simple as opening the machine up and changing the configuration.

McDonough said that having the machines ready as ballot marking devices this year was t comply with the Help America Vote Act, passed into law by the federal government in 2002 as a reaction to the 2000 presidential election, where a number of votes in Florida were disputed. Next year's reconfiguration is also to comply with the act.

McDonough said that New York was the last state in the union to get new voting machines.

The law required all states to update their election systems, including voting machines, poll worker training and the registration process. McDonough said the law left some room for states to make their own interpretations of the law and customize their own election procedures.

He said that New York had taken so long to comply with the law because of the problems other states had been having with the purchase of machines that didn't fit their standards. He said the legislature waited to make sure the kinks were worked out of the system before it acted. "I think New York state did it the right way," McDonough said.

He said New York ended up with three types of machines that fit the state's standards, and most counties, including Rensselaer, have gone with the ImageCast machine, built by Sequoia-Dominion. Sequoia, McDonough said, is the company that built the lever machines Rensselaer County currently uses

McDonough said the machines, which are black and roughly the size of a standard copy machine, cost about $11,000 each. Rensselaer purchased 90 of them, using a federal grant which covered 90 percent of the cost.

The machines saw little use in the September primary elections, with a total of six Rensselaer County voters casting votes on them out of the 82 election districts they were used in.

He expects the number to go up slightly for the presidential elections, but not by much. Right now, he said, they are primarily there for disabled voters so they can vote independently.

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Norma Brenenstuhl, an election inspector for voting district one in Hoosick Falls, said that the new machine she had experience with during the primaries hadn't worked properly. McDonough said that the problem with the machine at the armory in Hoosick Falls was because the machine was new and the inspectors weren't used to using it.

"I think they are going to work just fine once we get used to them," Brenenstuhl said. "A change is always nice." She said that while she had only been to one training class for the new machines, she expected to attend more by the time they are put to full use.

Sue Stradinger, the Hoosick town clerk, said that there had been some changes to the deadlines for voter registration.

Oct. 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. is for voter registration in person at the armory in Hoosick Falls.

Oct. 10 is the last day to register in person at the Board of Elections in Troy.

Oct. 10 is the last day a person can register by mail. The registration must be postmarked by Oct. 10.

Oct. 11 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. voters can register in person at the armory in Hoosick Falls.

Oct. 28 is the deadline for absentee ballots. Ballots must be postmarked by Oct. 28.

Nov. 3 is the deadline for absentee ballots to be delivered in person at the Board of Elections office.

Margaret Shaw, an election inspector for the town of Cambridge in Washington County, said no one voted on the new machine set up in Cambridge, but it was available.

"They're really not that complicated once you get started," Shaw said. "They just look scary."

She said with a privacy screen in place, it's possible for two people to use the machine at once. On one end is the equipment for someone with a disability to vote, while the other can be used by a non-disabled voter, so there is no hold-up, Shaw said.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.


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