On edge of an election overhaul – QNS.com

On edge of an election overhaul

With campaign slogans and stump speeches ringing in our ears and a full roster of politicians hankering for votes, the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) is shopping for new technologies to make the election process as efficient and accessible as possible.
On January 24, the NYSBOE approved ballot-marking devices for use by the disabled in New York’s fall 2008 elections, rejecting technology known as direct-recording electronic voting machines, or DREs in favor of devices that print out an actual paper record of the disabled voter’s choice.
“These systems would have been preposterously confusing to voters and could have caused hundreds of thousands of votes to be lost,” said Larry Norden, Director of the Voting Technology Assessment Project at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Norden, whose organization helped spearhead an effort to prevent New York counties from purchasing DREs, maintained that the devices are often unreliable and are insecure, as they leave no paper trail to fall back on in the event of a technological mishap.
Ballot markers, on the other hand, allow disabled voters to cast their vote via a computer mouse-like clicker, other handheld apparatus or straw-like hands-free device. The ballot marking machines then print out a result of the selection, which, in fall 2008, will then be hand counted along with the ballots of able-bodied voters.
Every voting station in New York will have at least one ballot marking device for the fall elections, but the more influential change will take place in 2009, when the State will overhaul the entire voting structure, replacing the emblematic lever system with paper balloting that will be fed into an optical scanner and tabulated.
“Every state has been ordered by the Feds to replace lever machines [by 2009],” said Lee Daghlin, the NYBOE’s Director of Public Information.
“They work well but are just not as accessible [to the disabled],” Daghlin explained.
According to Norden, the new ballot marking machines, which range from $5,000 to $12,000 per unit, will cost New York City millions of dollars. But Norden and voting activists welcome the state’s decision to implement the new technology.
Many states across the country use ballot marking devices but none have adopted the Sequoia Imagecast, which is competing along with two Automark machines in the race to equip New York voting stations for next fall’s elections. The NYBOE is awaiting modifications that would incorporate “full-face” ballots onto the Automark machines - Sequoia’s machine already has this feature - enabling voters to see the entire ballot at once.
Andy Wynham, a Sequoia representative who gave a demonstration at the New York City Board of Elections, explained that the Imagecast integrates the optical scanner - for use in 2009 - with the ballot-marking device that will be used in the fall of 2008.
“In any voting system you ultimately want to reduce your voting process down to two steps,” said Wynham, who discussed various interfaces that are used in conjunction with Sequoia’s product, many of which are similar to those of other manufacturers.
Wynham explained that his ballot marking device could be used by those with no impairment, mobility restrictions and even those with visual impairment, noting that the Imagecast’s audio headset could benefit voters with literary issues as well as foreign speaking voters who do not have an approved language on the ballot to assist them.
All counties across New York must decide by February 8 which ballot marker to purchase. But if Automark does not provide a “full-face” ballot machine soon, voters will see the Sequoia Imagecast at voting stations come November.
Norden said the decision to abandon DREs “should give New Yorkers the peace of mind that when they cast their ballot their choices will be recorded accurately.”

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