Thursday, May 27, 2010

Coming to a Polling Place Near You: Electronic Ballot Marking Devices

By Patricia Adams

Voters at polling sites in NYC are slated to be introduced to the “new kid on the voting block”, the Electronic Ballot Marking Device, as early as this year’s September 14th primary election. But State Senator Joe Addabbo, Chair of the Senates Standing Committee on Elections, says he intends to petition the judge with a request to hold off replacing the machines until next year.

If the Board of Elections (BoE) funding is cut at the city level, federal money will run out, according to Addabbo, and there will not be enough funding to train BoE workers or to educate voters on the use of the new machines. “Next year is the perfect year for this,” Sen. Addabbo said. “It’s an off-year with no major elections. It’s already years late,” he contends. “I don’t see the world spinning off its axis if we do this next year.”

According to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, a program was put in place to provide funds to states to replace punch card voting systems. According to Addabbo, the situation is further complicated by several factors including the fact that because states used HAVA funding, they were mandated to comply with regulations and forced to decide on machines they are now unhappy with.

Changing the machines during a popular election will cause mayhem at the polls according to Sen. Addabbo. “The mayor is proposing huge cuts to the Board of Elections. Training for the introduction to this system on the board end and to the voters could be upwards of thirty million dollars. The money is just not there.” And he maintains that voters need very little to be discouraged. “If you don’t want someone to vote, just give them a little reason to be frustrated—they’ll stay at home,” said Addabbo.

But in the eyes of another elected official, the arrival of the machines has been delayed for far too long. “There is no reason to delay,” says Councilman Eric Ulrich, a former employee of the BoE. “There are huge benefits to this machine,” he says, “People do not have faith in the system. That’s obvious by the decline of voter turnout.” Ulrich and other supporters of the immediate change say that infusing the new technology will encourage a younger set of voters whom statistics show are not voting.

Supporters of the machines say there are a number of highly advantageous components including instant reporting, allowing the results of an election to be known much sooner. On a more practical basis, the new machines offer voters the opportunity to correct any mistakes they may have made on their ballot and the machines also create a paper trail to verify the voter’s intent.

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