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Dan Hust | Democrat

Sixty-three new voting machines will grace the polling stations across Sullivan County this fall, starting on Primary Day in September. The slot in the middle of the photo will accept ballots inserted by the voter. The rest of the machine serves as both a storage area and a ballot marking device for those with special needs.

Lever no more

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 31, 2010 — Come November, those familiar lever machines won’t be waiting to take your vote.
Instead, you’ll stand at a small desk, mark your ballot in pen, then slide it into an Optiscan machine, where your choices will be read and the ballot securely stored.
If you’re planning to vote in the September 14 primary, you’ll test out these new electronic vote-scanning machines even earlier in what is their first full-scale rollout.
“I think it should go fairly well,” predicted Republican County Elections Commissioner Rodney Gaebel. “It will be easy – easier than voting on the lever machines.”
Gaebel and his Democratic counterpart, Faith Kaplan, have spent the last three years getting their staff ready for the switchover, and every polling place will have elections inspectors trained in the new procedures.
A test run in Neversink last year proved the integrity and accuracy of the system, and New York State will actually be the last in the Union to implement the federally-required electronic voting process.
But for those who’d really like to know what they’ll be facing on Election Day, the Sullivan County Board of Elections is hosting a three-day demonstration of the new machines and procedures.
From 10 a.m.-noon on September 7, 8 and 10, you’re invited to the elections office inside the Government Center in Monticello. Any of those days, you will have access to demonstration ballots, which you can then feed into the Optiscan, duplicating the process you’ll undertake in September and/or November.
In particular, you’ll get to see the curtainless privacy booths and privacy sleeves employed to hide your votes from public view.
Elections workers will also explain how the foot traffic at each polling station will be carefully controlled to ensure no one is looking over your shoulder.
They’ll even open up the machine so you can see its 4,000-ballot capacity (compared to the maximum 999 votes the old lever machines could handle).
For those with special needs, about half of the 63 scanning machines the county purchased with $1 million in grant monies also offer TV screens and special input controls to allow anyone to complete the voting process on their own.
And should the power go out, these ballot marking devices, as they’re known, can continue functioning on battery power for up to six hours.
This hasn’t come without a cost, however – one that Kaplan and Gaebel are still tallying. By the end of the year, they said they’ll have a good handle on how much more these elections will cost the county, due to vastly increased staff time and the new need for hardware/software maintenance.
Also, the machines have to be securely housed in a central location, so they must be trucked in and out for every election – though at around 200 pounds, they’re a quarter of a ton lighter than their solid-metal forebears.
Some of that expense may be temporarily recouped if and when the county auctions off the old lever machines. Though some are county-owned and some town-owned, the state has said they are the ultimate responsibility of the counties.
Officials are currently mulling sending some to school districts and selling others for scrap, but there’s a good chance collectors and interested organizations could bid for a few.
Even if you’re not interested in shelling out the dollars for some nostalgia, you still have one method of voting that continues to withstand the test of time – no electronics necessary.
“If you vote by absentee ballot,” noted Gaebel, “the process hasn’t changed.”
Want more info? The Board of Elections welcomes your call at 807-0400.

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