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As Village Elections Approach, Ballot Methods in Discussion

Optical Scan Machines Will Not Be Available

Remember those finicky new voting machines? Well, they will not be available for the upcoming village elections throughout New York State. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the trusty lever machines will be put back into action, unless a new freshman senator from the 7th Senate District and a seasoned 16th District Assemblywoman have their way.

Village of Mineola officials stated at past meetings and its board of trustees meeting last week that if legislation before the Senate does not pass relatively soon, the village would have to resort to using paper ballots. Senator Jack Martins and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel sponsored the bill.

The bill would give villages throughout the state, the ability to use lever machines in its elections. The new optical scan voting machines have been met with much scrutiny since their inaugural usage in the past state and countywide elections.

The seemingly never-ending court battle between Martins and then-incumbent Craig Johnson was a prime example over the issues of these machines. The bill is still pending before the Senate.

The Board of Elections has said that the new electronic voting machines will not be available for the village elections in March. Mineola Mayor Larry Werther stated that the Nassau County Village Officials Association (NCVOA) recently met with County Executive Edward P. Mangano. Werther said that Mangano agreed to supply the lever machines if the legislation did not pass.

“If the villages were to supply [Nassau County] with a letter of indemnification, that’s something the NCVOA is currently looking into,” Werther said. “No decisions have been made to move forward on that. But the optical scanners are tied up right now and unfortunately will not be available for the March elections.”

Werther said the village has a contingency plan in place in that using paper ballots would be “interesting to say the least.” He stated further that hopefully it all plays out the right way.

When the village learned the optical scanning machines couldn’t be used, they wanted to go to the old lever machines but legally, the village can’t use them. According to village officials, when the State amended its law to allow the usage of the optical scanning machines, paper ballots became the default fallback plan.

When the law was amended, school districts were given an exception, in that districts could use the lever machines during their elections until Dec. 31, 2012. This current bill Martins and Schimel are proposing asks for the same extension.

“All we’ve done is give the local communities, villages and local districts the opportunity the school districts were given, that is until 2012,” Senator Martins said.

Martins said there is a “sunset provision” in this bill, meaning that it had to be drafted and has to be passed fairly quickly because the March elections are fast approaching. “We’ll have to circle back though and deal with this issue definitively because 2012 is right around the corner,” he stated. “Once this is done to allow the March elections to move, we’ll have to come back and figure out how we’re going to integrate those scanners in the context of school district and village elections.”

The bill had been introduced to the Senate Standing Committee on Elections on Jan. 31 and according to Martins, it would be voted on either this week or next week. The village of Mineola has authorized the retraining of election inspectors in the event that paper ballots would have to be used. The inspectors are only trained on the lever and optical voting machines.

The inspectors are normally trained through a training session, which certifies them to work on any election. The issue is that no one has been trained to use paper ballots.

Election law states that anyone hired to serve as inspectors must have the Board of Elections certification, which means being trained on optical scanning. This prompted the retraining of the inspectors.

Nassau County has provided a waiver application, which says that villages can use the lever machines if they agree to not hold any Nassau County authority responsible if someone contests an election. The NCVOA is looking into that as well. Essentially, it would be boiled down to a simple rental agreement.

Officials stated the NCVOA wants to know the legal standing of this option, because if an election were to proceed under this waiver, would it really help. Mineola is preparing for the usage of paper ballots.

Martins said he spoke to Schimel recently and that she “has gotten certain commitments from the Assembly and that they’ll be moving the bill quickly.”

“This is not just a Long Island issue, it’s a state issue,” Assemblywoman Schimel said. “This is a high priority for me in terms of getting the bill to the goal line. We have a deadline so we’re working feverishly with NYCOM (New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials).”

“All we’re asking for is the rights and privileges that the school districts received,” she said. “I received a number of emails and letters of resolutions of support from villages throughout the state to go ahead with this bill. I wish voters would get involved too.”

General council Wade Beltramo of NYCOM stated that HAVA (Help America Vote Act), enacted in 2002, included enacting a law that mandate that local governments turn over their voting machines to its respective county Board of Elections in 2005. Beltramo said it gave authority to municipalities and the counties that the Board of Elections “may, it did not require them, but it may permit villages within the county to use voting machines to conduct elections.”

Since 2005, villages were allowed to use lever voting machines or paper ballots. According to Beltramo, last year the state fully implemented HAVA by amending state laws to opt to use the electronic voting machines.

All of the counties in the state now use these machines. Beltramo said HAVA governs federal elections, but the state in implementing the HAVA requirements didn’t make a distinction.

“[The state] just did a broad stroke and said this is how we’re conducting elections,” Beltramo stated. “People tend to think that conducting elections are easy, until they have to do it themselves.”

He continued to say that there are a slew of villages that want to use a machine rather than paper ballots, “but can’t get their hands on them.”