State board chooses voting machines for handicapped

The state Board of Elections has approved new voting machines accessible to the disabled and given c

The state Board of Elections has approved new voting machines accessible to the disabled and given county election officials a choice between three.

The decision Thursday is a crucial step in a court-ordered timetable to comply with the Help America Vote Act.

HAVA was enacted after the contested 2000 elections to ensure the accuracy of vote counts and access for the disabled.

The approved machines were pushed by Democrats on the board and by advocates for the disabled. Republicans also backed other devices that weren’t approved, including touch-screen machines.

One of the machines selected is an optical scanner that uses paper ballots voters fill in with a pen, much like standardized tests. The other machines, which were approved pending minor modifications, are “auto markers” that create paper ballots complete with a record of voters’ choices.

HAVA requires at least one machine accessible for disabled voters in each polling place. Current state law requires only one per county.

With the selection of two types of machines, county election officials will have choices from three companies selling the products. Counties must have the new machines in place by the fall elections.

The board still needs to decide how to replace the state’s lever-action voting machines. Those must be selected by Oct. 23, 2008, and in place for the fall 2009 elections.

New York is years behind meeting HAVA deadlines and was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006. U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe has threatened to appoint a special master to oversee the state’s efforts if it fails to meet deadlines he approved as part of the court case.

“We feel it’s a good outcome,” elections board spokesman Lee Daghlian said. “Some of the commissioners would maybe have liked more machines involved. At least three gives (counties) an option.”

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