Court decision on voting to cost county thousands

ELIZABETHTOWN A decision by a federal court judge will end up costing the Essex County Board of Elections thousands. U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe ruled on Dec. 20 that the state must get into line with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). He set a Jan. 4 deadline for state officials to create a plan with a specific timeline for providing the disabled with access to voting machines. The decision will result in about $180,000 in costs to supply all 28 polling sites in Essex County with a ballot marking device (BMD). HAVA requires the state to provide at least one machine accessible to the disabled per polling place. My thoughts are it was inevitable. In all fairness, New York State has dallied considerably as a whole and implication in fulfilling the intent of the HAVA law. Whether the law is good or not is another matter, but that's irrelevant. It's politically impossible that it would be changed, said Essex County Democratic Commissioner David Mace. Essex County Republican Commissioner Lewis Sanders said he hadnt been expecting the ruling. It looks like they ambushed us. It is what it is. The judge ruled, the fat lady sang, and we got to do what we've got to do to get it done. Its scary, said Sanders. Currently Essex County has one BMD, which is located at board of elections office in Elizabethtown. Special arrangements have been available in the past to transport disabled voters to the Elizabethtown site. Mace said the site had been woefully underused, with only one disabled individual using the machine in the past two years. He said having the machines in the farthest-flung towns from the county seat might help a disabled voter have easier access to the machines. It has to be balanced against the fact that a disabled voter in Newcomb isn't going to drive 50 miles to use the machine - its possible they would use it if it were at the poll site in their town, said Mace. Sanders said the consensus opinion of disabled voters was it was more comfortable to fill out absentee ballots at home. Using a BMD is a slow process, taking about 10 minutes. Sanders said New York has yet to approve any BMD or voting machine. Without certification, its possible the machines may have to be entirely replaced once the state decides on the allowable machines. Essex County has been allotted $450,000 in federal funding for machine replacement. The $180,000 will come out of that funding. Mace said the hole left in the HAVA funding would eventually have to be paid for by the county. The replacement of the regular machines will likely cost about $400,000, leaving an approximated $130,000 shortfall that will need to be covered. Along with the machine replacement cost, there are additional costs in set-up, software and printing, which Sanders said set up costs are more expensive than purchasing the machines themselves. The BMDs will also require additional training for election inspectors and custodians. I don't see any upside to them, I really don't. The disabled community can vote faster on paper than they can on these BMDs, said Sanders.

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