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New Voting Machines Touring Merrick

Optical scanners to replace lever machines, although some are fighting to keep the old system of voting in place.

Did you get a chance to try out the new voting machines at Freeport's Nautical Mile's Festival recently? Did you catch our elected officials at the voting machine demonstration booth at the St. Demetrios Greek Festival in Merrick?  Or maybe you caught a demonstration at the Merrick Library or the Merrick Road Park Clubhouse.

The new voting machines are here! And Nassau County's Board of Elections has been touring Merrick and all of Nassau County, demonstrating how easy it is to vote on them.  

We will never vote on a lever machine during a primary or general election ever again, although they will still have the lever machines in village, school, library, fire and special district elections for a couple more years.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 ("HAVA") was enacted after the 2000 Bush/Gore election when our presidency was in the hands of a few Florida districts who were determining the intent of the voter by holding "hanging chads" up to the light.  

HAVA requires that all voting systems be auditable and produce a permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity as an official record for any recount conducted.  Our lever machines do not have a paper trail.

States soon found themselves having to choose between two types of machines: Direct-recording electronic voting machines (DRE's) and optical scanners.  DRE's are commonly known to be the touch-screen voting machines.  Optical scanners are scanning machines that tabulate marks made on a paper ballot.

During the Bush/Kerry election, lawsuits arose against DRE's.  In some precincts, more votes were cast for one candidate than there were registered voters in that district.  During early voting in Miami, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, Florida in October 2006, votes intended to be recorded for Democratic candidates were displaying as cast for Republican.  Election officials attributed it to calibration errors in the touch screen of the voting system.

In 2005, New York State passed the Election Reform and Modernization Act, which requires all the lever voting machines replaced in time for this year's primary and general elections.  Many New Yorkers are reluctant to give up their lever machines. People trust them.

Nassau County filed suit, claiming that the state act violates the New York Constitution by introducing voting machines that are inaccurate and subject to tampering.  The suit is still pending.

Nassau Democratic Election Commissioner William Biamonte has been fighting to keep our lever machines that we have been using for decades.

"We are being forced to switch to correct a problem that did not exist in New York," Biamonte said.  "People trust the lever machines and are comfortable with them.  They are reliable, accurate and difficult to tamper with.  Although federal money is funding the transition to the new voting machines, their operation will cost Nassau County taxpayers several million dollars a year more to operate – a burden that Long Island taxpayers cannot afford."

The state Board of Elections certified the new style of machine on Dec. 15, 2009.  The county was given two weeks to choose among the certified machines.  The County Election Commissioners chose the DS200, which is an optical scanning system.  Suffolk County chose a different optical scanner.

Optical scanners are similar to lotto tickets.  Once voters sign-in at their table, they are handed a paper ballot and asked to fill in the bubble next to the name of the candidate they want to vote for.  Privacy booths will be available to mark the ballot.

The voter then feeds the paper ballot into a machine that scans the entries and tabulates how many votes are cast for each candidate.  The paper ballot in its entirety falls into a box that is locked and kept as paper back-up.  At the close of polls, the election results are printed up on a receipt.

Each polling location must also have at least one voting system accessible to individuals with disabilities.  Nassau County has had these machines in each polling location, but they are now being replaced with a new "Automark" machine, which marks the ballot for those with disabilities and affords the opportunity for non-English speaking residents to vote.  The voter then feeds the marked ballot into the new voting machines.

The Board of Elections is giving demonstrations of both the DS200 and the Automark throughout Nassau County so that people become familiar with the new system.  Virtually everyone who tries the new machines finds them to be easy to use.

If you'd like to try one, you can call the Nassau County Board of Elections at 571-2411 and ask when a voting machine demonstration will be coming to a location near you.

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