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Senate working to avoid voting problems in 2010

December 21, 2009
The Senate Elections Committee heard testimony last month from county officials on how to best implement optical scan voting statewide for the 2010 elections.

Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Ozone Park, chair of the Senate Elections Committee, heard testimony from various local elections commissioners from across the state and asked questions to better understand how to implement changes in the upcoming 2010 elections.

Topics discussed during the Nov. 30 hearing in the Capitol included the 2009 pilot program of optical scan voting machines, the time span between primary and general elections and voter privacy.

An optical scan voting ballot works similarly to a standardized test, said David Kogelman, counsel to the Senate Elections Committee. The voter fills in the circle or square corresponding to the candidate of their choice in a privacy booth and then the ballot is entered into the optical scan voting machine.

"We had a good experience with our [pilot program] and I think we're moving forward in a very healthy direction," said Thomas F. Ferrarese, commissioner of the Monroe County Board of Elections.

Ralph M. Mohr, commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections, said Erie County also had a positive experience with the pilot program, adding that the optical scan voting machines proved to be very accurate.

"We had a candidate actually come in to verify for himself that the votes were accurately counted," said Mohr. "[Results indicated] that he had lost by 99 votes, when [votes] were hand counted, he had lost by 100, and that was only because people had difficulty marking the ballot, for example, circling rather than filling in the ballot."

The biggest concern with optical scan voting machines discussed by those who testified was the issue of privacy. "We issued one privacy booth per 100 voters, and we still think there needs to be more," said Helen M. Kiggins, a commissioner at the Onondaga County Board of Elections.

Privacy booths differ by election site, said Kogelman. Some consist of three walls to surround a voter and their ballot while filling it out and some are simply a cardboard stand put on the table. Kiggins also said overzealous poll workers can be a problem by getting too close to voters while they're filling out their ballots. Kiggins suggested this could be resolved through more training.

Another way to improve the elections process is to create more time between primary and general elections — which is currently two weeks — to allow enough time to print the paper ballots necessary for optical scan voting.

Dennis Ward, a commissioner at the Erie County Board of Elections said his county faced a time crunch after late-breaking court orders affected one of 15 legislative district election ballots on the Friday before Election Day.

Ward said that members of the Erie County Board of Elections worked 20 hours a day for a few days to print new ballots as per the court order.

"Maybe it was Erie County this year but it will be another county next year," said Ward.

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