Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Decisions from SBOE on Voting Machines

There appear to have been a few breakthroughs at last Thursday's State Board of Elections meeting. First, several attendees at the meeting tell us that the commissioners reached a bipartisan agreement that the State Board of Elections will prepare a revised plan for implementation of the Help America Vote Act that will require the county boards to provide a ballot marking device that is fully accessible to voters with disabilities at every poll site in time for the September 2008 primary. Ballot marking devices are computers that will fill out paper ballots for voters. Voters can review these paper ballots before casting them. Such devices are far more accessible for most disabled voters than current lever machines.

This is huge news. While we would like to see ballot marking devices in every polling place by this September, at least this guarantees that disabled voters will have more accessible machines in every polling place in time for the 2008 general election. We also hope that this will push counties to purchase optical scanners (which can read paper ballots filled out by hand or by the ballot marking devices) to replace their lever machines, rather than the full face touch screen machines the state is also considering for certification (which, the Brennan Center has shown, are expensive, cumbersome, poorly designed and confusing to voters).

In related news, the State Board of Elections rejected a proposal which would have limited the use of ballot marking devices to people with disabilities. This was certainly the right decision since, among other things, the proposal probably violated federal law.

Finally, the SBOE also intends to inform the Department of Justice that it would appear impossible to replace the state's lever voting machines in 2008.

Given the constraints the State Board of Election is dealing with, we view these decisions as good news for New York.

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