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Nassau to Switch to Electronic Voting Machines

New voting scanners will replace lever machines in time for September primaries.

Nassau County and the rest of New York State is switching over to new electronic voting machines for primary and general elections come the fall. Lever machines, however, will continue to be used in village, school, library, fire and special district elections for a couple more years.

With September primaries shaping up in Kemp Hannon's 6th senate district and Carolyn McCarthy's 4th Congressional district, Garden City residents may want to visit a demonstration site where the Nassau County Board of Elections is unveiling the new machines this month. 

Five Republican candidates' names will be on the ballot this fall in the race for Congress, including political newcomer and 11-year Garden City resident Rich Petrone. In the race to unseat Hannon, former county legislator Dave Mejias will face off against Francesca Carlow for the Democratic nod.

"We're doing everything we can to make it as smooth as possible, but I think there are a lot of logistical problems," explained Nassau County Democratic Commissioner William T. Biamonte.

Different counties across the state will be using different machines, but Nassau will be using the ES&S DS200 Ballot Scanner, as well as the ES&S Automark for people with disabilities.

The DS200 is a portable electronic voting system that uses an optical scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results. This system allows for paper ballots to be immediately tabulated at each polling site. The DS200 also notifies the voter of any voting errors. Each machine holds approximately 1,500 ballots.

Electronic scanners mean that inspectors at each election must be able to properly operate each machine.

"Our biggest concern is getting enough quality inspectors that can actually boot up the machines and get it going," Biamonte said, "that's our most daunting task. The other daunting task is with the small budget that the state has given us, we now have to educate the voting public on how to operate these machines."

Once each voter has checked in at the polling site, an inspector will provide them with a paper ballot, a privacy sleeve and a specific pen which each voter must use on their ballot. The privacy sleeve can be used to shield each voter's ballot from view.

After receiving the appropriate materials, each voter will be shown to a booth or designated area where they can complete their paper ballot in private. Voters should completely fill in the oval for each candidate they would like to vote for. "X" marks or checks will not be accepted by the DS200.

In the event of a write-in ballot with the new machines, the voter will fill in the oval of the write-in box and then write out the name of each candidate.

"What it does is it alerts us that there is a write-in and so at the end of the night when we take the ballots out we will see that there's a write-in," explained Regina Corbin, the Board of Elections inspector on hand for one of the demonstrations. "…This one is a lot easier, because with the lever machines, you actually had to open the window over the office."

The new machines make it so the write-in ballots are as easy as casting a normal vote, however, it does have a downside.

"Everything is going to be on paper. So the paper will be the paper, but the paper is also much easily subject to challenge then a vote on a lever machine," Biamonte elucidated. "Rather than just challenging the write-in votes, almost everything can be challenged in a close election. They call this optical scanning system the 'Full Employment for Election Lawyer's Act.'"

If a mistake is made while filling out the ballot, the voter will be able to return the ballot to the voting inspector on hand who will then issue a new ballot. The original ballot will be stamped as void and placed in a container with other voided ballots.

After the paper ballot is correctly filled out the voter will then take it to the DS200 Ballot Scanner and insert it into the machine. The scanner will then read the ballot and alert the voter of any possible mistakes – under vote, over vote or blank ballot. The voter is then given the option of "Don't Cast – Return Ballot," in which case they will be able to make any necessary changes, or "Cast Ballot," in which case the process is complete.

While the scanners simply show whether or not there is a mistake with the ballot and not the actual votes, there still might be cause for concern that there is nothing blocking others from viewing the results from each voter's ballot.

"They were talking about putting wings on the side of it," Corbin said of the scanners. "This is one of our concerns also ... You really can't read how people voted and it won't show them the votes, it will show them a summary."

The new voting system will certainly take some time to get used to and has already begun to cause concern amongst voters, something Commissioner Biamonte addressed.

"I think there will be a sense that the change was made for no particular good reason," Biamonte said of the general public's expected reception of the new machines. "We had a voting system that we had confidence in, that we knew worked, that had a limited amount of problems. We're replacing it with a voting system that has numerous problems and I think will foster a sense of lack of confidence in the system."

Any additional New York State voting information can be found here.

Carisa Giardino contributed to this article.

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