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The future of voting
8th March, 2006

No matter how you look at it, casting a ballot in 2007 will be quite different for voters used to the mechanical lever machines that have been a mainstay of New York polling places for decades.

Dozens of Ulster County residents got a chance Tuesday to see the kinds of machines from which county officials will choose in replacing the only machines most voters have ever known. New York must replace its lever machines to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.

At the invitation of the Ulster County Board of Elections, Sequoia, a Syracuse voting machine manufacturer, had on display three types of machines at the Kingston Holiday Inn: two direct recording machines and a paper ballot optical scan machine.

Although the direct recording machines, known as DREs, have raised the most concern among voting rights activists, the technology appears most similar to the existing lever machines. With the names of candidates displayed on a screen, voters cast their ballots by touching a box next to the name of their candidate, check their vote against a paper "receipt" displayed behind a small window on the machine, then press a button to complete the vote and leave the booth. The vote is recorded digitally and the paper "receipt" is deposited in the machine.

To cast a ballot under the optical scan paper ballot technology, which is preferred by many voting activists, including the groups New York For Verified Voting and the League of Women Voters, voters enter the polling place, receive a paper ballot and go to a "privacy booth" to manually mark their ballots. Voters then go to an optical scan machine and insert their ballot. The optical scan machine records the ballot and drops the paper document into the machine.

For some observers, like Judith Simon, the demonstration only reinforced her commitment to the optical scan machine. Simon, who describes herself as a "citizen activist," said she has a book with "51 pages showing where DREs have screwed up."

"There are numerous places where a DRE can be programmed to choose," she said. "You cannot have bug-free software."

"All you have to do is start reading (about DREs)," said Esopus Town Board member Deborah Silvestro. She said that going to the digital recording machines would be "going from something moderately imperfect to something terribly imperfect."

Others, like Bernie and Liz Rosen of Woodstock, said their concerns about the digital recording machines were assuaged by the information they received at the demonstration.

"Whichever one they chose, I wouldn't feel bad about," Rosen said.

Valerie Kintner, of Hurley, said she didn't have a preference, but understood the concerns of those who worry about the accuracy and security of the direct recording machines.

"I think the election recount between (George W.) Bush and (Al) Gore caused such a concern ... That's what people are afraid of," she said.

Ulster County Republican Elections Commissioner Thomas Turco said that while some of those who flocked to Tuesday's demonstration "had an agenda," most people were interested in the process.

He said many people told him they preferred one machine over the other, but declined to identify which technology received the most support.

Turco said he and Democratic Elections Commissioner John Parete plan to hold another demonstration and will use the feedback from residents to help determine what kind of voting machine they will ultimately choose for Ulster County.

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