The Schenectady County Board of Elections expects to spend at least $400,000 to comply with federal election law intended to improve voting accuracy and accessibility.
The county would spend the money to follow the state Board of Elections plan, now before a federal judge.
U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe demanded the state submit a plan by Friday on how it would comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, or else he could appoint a special master to run elections and even put board members in jail on contempt charges. Sharpe is expected to issue his response to the plan next week in Albany.
New York is the last state to meet HAVA requirements.
Schenectady Republican Elections Commissioner Art Brassard said HAVA requires every polling place to contain a device to make it easier for handicapped people to vote.
Brassard said the cost to purchase the devices and train and educate inspectors and the public in their use would equal about $400,000. He said the county would have to purchase machines for 60 polling locations and the machines would have to be ready for use by the September primary.
Federal aid is in hand to purchase the machines but the county may have to spend additional money to purchase another 20 machines for another 20 polling locations in time for the November General Election, and to replace its mechanical lever machines for 2009.
The county will use the mechanical machines this year.
“As far as a county, we will be made fairly whole. There could be some cost implications down the road if we use all our money now to buy machines,” Brassard said. “This is only part of the plan. We have to replace all mechanical machines in 2009.”
The county received the money several years ago and set it aside, said Democratic Elections Commissioner Brian Quail. The problem is state law says a board of elections can’t purchase new voting equipment until the state certifies a machine, and the state has not yet selected a machine that could be universally used by all counties.
Brassard said the proposed special machine would allow a person with any type of handicap to vote. For example, a person with multiple paralysis would be able to vote using a so-called “sip and puff” device on the machine.
Quail said the device allows a handicapped person to record a vote preference. The preference is printed out and is accepted as a legal vote.
Schenectady County has one machine available for handicapped people to use at its office on Broadway, Brassard said. He said few people have used it since its purchase in 2006.
“Many handicapped people vote by absentee ballot or do not want to be stigmatized through the use of a special device,” he said.
Brassard said the county Board of Elections has received few complaints about polling machine accessibility problems from handicapped people. “In fact, they have been very supportive; we try to we keep the disabled community in mind all the time,” he said.