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New York Voting News

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Journal News. "This should be interesting....In Westchester County, voters complained of systemic breakdowns, while 40 of the 800 scanners deployed on primary day malfunctioned. Now, with 1,500 machines in use on Tuesday, county election officials have a new problem: a shortage of technicians to fix broken scanners on Election Day.... The change puts the county in complete control, eliminating the hands-on assistance from municipal clerks who ran local elections under county oversight in the past.... Because local clerks would run their own balloting in the past, there were routinely 160 to 170 workers on hand to set up and carry out elections. This year, with the county running it all, there are fewer than 100 -- 74 of them full-time, year-round board employees."

Election workers brace for glitches with optical-scan voting machines
By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon " October 31, 2010

WHITE PLAINS -- This should be interesting.
After a shaky trial run in the primaries, the state's new optical-scan voting machines will get a full workout in Tuesday's general elections.
Thousands of Lower Hudson Valley voters will be using the new machines for the first time after a primary that saw 44 of 57 counties in the state report major problems or technical malfunctions.
In Westchester County, voters complained of systemic breakdowns, while 40 of the 800 scanners deployed on primary day malfunctioned. Now, with 1,500 machines in use on Tuesday, county election officials have a new problem: a shortage of technicians to fix broken scanners on Election Day.

"There will be enough people at the polling sites," said Reginald Lafayette, the county's Democratic election commissioner. "But I can't reassure that we're going to have enough people -- as the problems occur with the machines -- to take care of that in a speedy manner."
"Here we have 15 technicians who are based in Ardsley, at the warehouse," Lafayette said. "So imagine getting from Ardsley up to Yorktown. You understand?"

New way to vote
In addition to new voting machines, Westchester is implementing a centralized election process for the first time. The change puts the county in complete control, eliminating the hands-on assistance from municipal clerks who ran local elections under county oversight in the past.

That change -- and the change to paper-ballot scanners -- are to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which sought to streamline the election process after the controversial 2000 presidential election exposed inconsistencies in Florida.
The paper-ballot system allows voters to cast an "emergency ballot" if a scanner is malfunctioning.

John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, conceded that there is a learning curve. But he said it's nothing that can't be overcome with practice -- for both voters and poll workers.\
" 'Smoothly' and 'election' are not necessarily always harmonious terms," Conklin said. "But that's as old as elections have been. That's not anything as a consequence of the new machines."


New York was one of the last states to overhaul the way it runs elections, with Albany lawmakers approving models of optical-scan machines for counties to choose. They replaced pull-lever machines used for more than 40 years.

"Obviously, there's a concern with folks that have been used to voting a certain way for decades and decades, and now they have to adapt to a new system," said Tom Murphy, Mamaroneck village Democratic campaign chairman. "Part of my concern is that it'll engender longer lines because of the necessary educational aspect that's going to have to be done."

Understaffed
Westchester will go into the election short-handed, said Lafayette, the election commissioner. Because local clerks would run their own balloting in the past, there were routinely 160 to 170 workers on hand to set up and carry out elections. This year, with the county running it all, there are fewer than 100 -- 74 of them full-time, year-round board employees.

By comparison, Suffolk County, which has 1,047 election districts to Westchester's 1,033, has 123 full-timers.

The Westchester number doesn't include more than 10,000 volunteer poll workers who were trained, about 6,500 of whom will be at more than 400 polling sites on Tuesday.

There is also more manual labor required in the new system, including the packing and transport of reams of paper ballots that have to be delivered to polling places.

"Who can you point the finger at? You gotta play the hand that's dealt you," Lafayette said. "The federal government changed the whole system, so we're working with what is there."
"When it doesn't work, people want to jump and blame the commissioners, but you don't blame the pilot every time the plane crashes."

'Royal screwup '
The optical-scan voting machines have proved controversial, prompting lawsuits and a host of complaints. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described the Big Apple's primary performance as "a royal screwup." Last week, he fired George Gonzalez, executive director of the city's Board of Elections.

The Brennan Center for Justice in Manhattan raised the alarm on several issues, including a revelation that paper ballots in the city incorrectly instruct voters to mark ovals above a candidate's name, when in fact the oval is below it.

Rockland County, which uses the ES&S DS200 Ballot Scanner model also used in New York City, made changes to its ballot to avoid a similar blunder, officials said.

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Allegra Dengler is a voting activist in New York State.
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