Sunday, April 4, 2010

New Voting Machines Still Cause Concerns by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio and Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, center, hear more information about the new voting machines from Barbara Conacchio of the city Board of Elections. Photo by Stephen Geffon

With just over five months to go before the mandated implementation of new voting machines, which will be used in the September primaries, many south Queens residents still have concerns about the new vote counters.

Barbara Conacchio, chief clerk of the city Board of Elections for Queens, sought to assure residents that the BOE had the situation under control at last Wednesday’s meeting of the South Queens Democratic Club in Howard Beach.

But many still had their doubts.

“This machine better be worth the change,” said Frank Dardani, president of the Ozone Tudor Civic Association, who added he feels that if the new optical scanning voting machines are perceived as too complicated, people will not come out to vote.

A Howard Beach resident identified only as Alan agreed. “One can reasonably expect a lot of confusion, along with longer wait times in line to vote,” he said.

One resident asked Conacchio if she thinks the old mechanical voting machines were better, having been used for the past 50 years without major problems.

The chief clerk noted that the change is part of the city’s compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, which mandated, among other measures, the replacement of lever machines and implementation of voting systems with a permanent paper record.

Just how the votes from the new machines would be counted was also a concern of some audience members.

Conacchio said she is not sure how the votes would be tabulated. “That’s still up for grabs,” she said, adding that one suggestion is that the optical scanner be opened up and the ballots taken out.

But Conacchio said she is not in favor of that because she does not want a “live” ballot touched by a poll worker.

Another idea being considered by the BOE is reviewing the vote count from the machine tape at the end of the night, Conacchio said. That method has a drawback, however, since the machine can run out of tape.

Residents and community officials offered their views about the new voting machines.

“In the months remaining in the run-up to the 2010 elections there is a lot of work to do to ensure voters are made familiar with the new machines and procedures,” said Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton. “I appreciate that the Board of Elections has begun coming out to communities to start providing information.”

Election poll worker Gloria Klieger of Howard Beach, who worked at John Adams High School in the last election, called the situation with the new voting machines “a big mess.” She added, “In my opinion, until it’s ironed out there will be a lot of problems.”

Last February, the city Board of Elections selected Elections Systems & Software’s DS200 Scanner and the AutoMark Ballot Marking Device to replace the Shoup 3.2 mechanical voting machine, used in city polling places for about half a century.

The ES&S DS200 scanner is a portable electronic voting system that uses an optical scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results. The system allows for paper ballots to be immediately tabulated at each poll site. The DS200 also notifies voters of any voting errors and allows them to immediately correct those.

The ES&S AutoMARK is a ballot marking device that allows any voter, including those with disabilities, to mark a paper ballot privately and independently by using either its touch screen, Braille-enhanced keypad, sip and puff device or rocker paddle. Voters may view the ballot on an adjustable screen or can listen to their choices being read over headphones.

The use of the optical scan voting machines the city intends to use in the September primary and November elections may be blocked if a recent lawsuit initiated by Nassau County succeeds. In court papers the county attorney said the state law requiring use of the new machines violates the state constitution.

According to court documents the county attorney said the law jeopardizes state elections by “disregarding highly regarded lever machines and substituting computerized voting technology that is notoriously vulnerable to systematic hacking, tampering, manipulation and malfunction.”

A nonprofit group called the Election Transparency Coalition says it is also preparing to file a lawsuit against the state. On its website, ETC says it “seeks a court declaration that concealed vote counting, as mandated by the Election Reform and Modernization Act, is unconstitutional” and that such a ruling would preserve the existing transparent voting system and establish a precedent for the rest of the nation.