Supervisors decry voting machine changes

ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County leaders are expressing frustration in reaction to state and federal mandates that they say will increase the cost to hold local elections.

David Mace, Democratic commissioner at the Essex County Board of Elections, spoke at the Jan. 11 Public Safety Committee meeting, outlining some of the changes planned for elections in 2010.

Mace said his department received word Dec. 16 of a mandate from the State Board of Elections to administer future elections through the use of electronic optical scanners. Mechanical lever voting machines, which have been in place for decades in Essex County, will be phased out entirely.

"No later than September of this year... the lever machines are gone," said Mace, noting that the change is mandated by a federal court order.

The news came much to the dismay of many county leaders who say the new equipment and training required is a waste of money to fix a system they say isn't broken.

The lever machines can still be used in village or school district elections, Mace explained, but will no longer be legal for use in any other elections.

Instead, all voters will now have to fill out a special paper ballot that is electronically counted by the optical scanners. Disabled voters can use special ballot marking devices, or BMDs, that create a paper ballot using computerized interfaces.

Some optical scanners have already been put into use in Essex County, being utilized alongside lever machines at most voting sites in the 2009 elections.

According to Mace, 20 counties across New York State participated in a pilot program last year to test their exclusive use, and many reported very few problems with the machines.

One common complaint among voters, he said, was a perceived lack of privacy, because, in most cases, they were not behind a curtain when filling out their ballot.

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