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New ballot scanners set for elections

New ballot scanners set for elections

This time it’s for real. This September, thousands of city residents will finally use the new voting

This time it’s for real.

This September, thousands of city residents will finally use the new voting machines that were supposed to replace the lever machines at least five years ago.

Election Commissioner Brian Quail said the new machines will be used at Schenectady High School, the polling place for eight city districts.

The machines will also be used by both election districts in Princetown. In total, 6,672 voters could use the machines this fall for the primary and general elections.

Next year, everyone else will switch to the new machines, called DS-200 scanners.

In essence, New York is switching from lever machines to no machine at all. When voters sign in at their polling place, they will be handed a paper ballot and ushered to a curtained booth. Inside, they will fill in the circle next to their choices and then slide their ballot into an opaque sleeve. Then they’ll stand in line at an optical scanner and feed their ballot into the machine, which will count every vote. The ballots will be sucked into a locked box under the scanner.

The machine will also notify voters if they over-vote or under-vote and ask them whether they want to submit the ballot or change it.

Although the machine will count the ballots, just as the lever machines did, the state will require Schenectady to audit the results at first, the county election commissioners said. They will physically count a certain number of paper ballots to ensure that the machine count is correct.

That’s an improvement over the current system, the commissioners said, noting that the lever machines do not create a paper ballot for each vote.

SECURITY CONCERNS

But since the counting relies on computer programming, security will be far tighter than it was for the lever machines. A room at the county Board of Elections building is being fortified as a secure room for the machines, which will be tested regularly when not in use, the commissioners said.

The county has already purchased all of the machines it will need, but a consent decree between the state and the Department of Justice allows each county to run a pilot program in three polling places this year. The goal is to work out any kinks in the system now, while only a few thousand voters are trying to use them.

The delay also gives the Board of Elections time to teach voters how to use the new machines. The commissioners plan to bring the scanners to neighborhood meetings and other gatherings, as well as allowing voters to try out the machines at the Board of Elections office on Broadway.

For now, voters must schedule an appointment to see the machines, but this fall they will be able to walk in at any time.

Among other changes, polling places may have just one machine for several districts. The county bought 95 machines for 60 polling places.

The scanners cost $735,680. The county also bought 530 voting booths, at a cost of $135,680. The federal government paid for 95 percent, the county paid the rest.

The county also bought 75 ballot-marking devices, special machines that can be used by the handicapped. Those machines, which the county has used in previous elections, will be at every polling place this fall. They cost $446,625, with the federal government paying for 95 percent.

Those machines can read the ballot out loud for voters and interpret votes through sip-and-puff devices used by those who cannot use their hands. Others can tap the screen to vote or use rocker-paddles to indicate their selection.

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