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
- Advertisement -
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
"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
"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
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.
Westchester and Putnam counties selected the ImageCast
Optical Scan Voting Machine from Dominion Voting Systems.
For Putnam, it was a smoother run on primary day and an
easier transition to the scanners -- largely because of the county's smaller
size and its decision to participate in a state pilot program that tried
scanners last year.
Lawsuits and glitches
The new system has already found itself in court, including
in several lawsuits by the Brennan Center.
One lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Conservative and Working
Families parties, alleges that an "overvote" glitch hurts minor
political parties. That's because a voter who picks the same candidate on
numerous party lines in the same race will have only the major-party vote
Another lawsuit challenged a "double-vote" glitch,
claiming that voters who incorrectly vote for more than one candidate in the
same one-seat race will have their votes discounted unless they file corrected
Larry Norden, special counsel for the Brennan Center, said a
prompt on the scanner's monitor doesn't do enough to warn the voter.
"New York has set up their machines in a way that makes
it likely that voters will just go ahead and cast their ballot and void out
their own vote," he said. "You get a message that says, 'You have
overvoted.' There is no explanation of what that means, or that if you go ahead
and press a green button with 'cast' on it, that you'll actually be casting a
vote that will not be counted."
Norden and other election watchers do note that there are
upsides to the new system -- once glitches are worked out. For one, it provides
a paper trail for more verifiable recounts, which was the intent of the Help
America Vote Act in the first place. The new system will eventually be quicker
and easier, they said.
"I think that it's going to be a little bit
different," said Pamela Smith, president of verifiedvoting.org
California-based nonprofit lobbying group that monitors the election process.
"But remember that this kind of system is the most widely used voting
system in the country and has been for a long time."
"Now, I'm not making light in any way of any issues
that people might have had in the primary," Smith said. "But it's
good that they had a primary and didn't just pop it on you for the general
election. We had a little bit of a practice run, and those kinds of bugs tend
to iron themselves out."
However it plays out, Lafayette, the commissioner, said,
it's too late to fix potential problems now, with the election just days away.
"My gut feeling is that we're going to survive
it," he said. "We've done all that we can from inside here. The
polling places are going to be open, they're going to be staffed, they're going
to be waiting for the voters. The thing is the reliability ... because if there
is a problem, our response time will not be as quick as it was with the old
system, which then creates more of a problem."
board hopes changes bolster voter privacy, speed election results
2010: Sample ballots for Westchester, Putnam locales
o Quirk in
N.Y.'s new voting system may hurt third parties
Video: How to vote on new machines: Westchester, Putnam
Video: How to vote on new machines: Rockland
Election Central: All about Tuesday's contests
Pozmanter, center, warehouse supervisor for the Westchester County
Board of Elections, helps Gail Peay and Ed Cusati inspect some of the
more than 1,400 optical-scan voting machines at an Ardsley warehouse.
(Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
No more levers, now it's paper ballots
New York is using new optical-scan voting machines to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act.
are instructions on how to vote with the ImageCast Optical Scan Voting
Machine, the model being used in Westchester and Putnam.
"¢ When you arrive at your polling place, check in at your election district table and sign the poll roster book.
An election inspector will hand you a paper ballot, a marking pen and a
privacy folder. Go to the privacy booth at your polling place.
Using only the marking pen provided, fill in the oval next to the name
of the candidate you wish to vote for. For propositions, fill in the
oval next to either "yes" or "no," depending on your vote.
"¢ Fill in the oval completely. Do not use an X, a circle or any other type of marking.
Vote only for the appropriate number of candidates in each race. If you
make a mistake, do not erase -- return to the election inspector and ask
for a new ballot.
"¢ For write-in votes, write the name of the candidate at the bottom of that race.
"¢ When your ballot is complete, put it in the privacy folder and proceed to the optical-scan voting machine.
Insert your paper ballot into the scanner. You may feed either end into
the machine. The display screen will alert you if there is an error.
Error messages alert you to an "overvote" if you selected too many
candidates in a race; a "blank ballot" if the scanner does not read any
votes; or a "misread ballot" if the paper is folded or torn, or was
"¢ Once your ballot is properly completed and fed into the scanner, the machine will accept and register your vote.
If the scanner is not working at your polling site, you can still vote.
Ask for an emergency ballot, fill it out and file your ballot to vote.
Sources: Westchester League of Women Voters, Westchester County Board of Elections