Voting machine mayhem; Pols pushing old levers

Everything old is new again! 

Unsatisfied with the computerized voting system that was put in place in New York three years ago, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers in Brooklyn and Staten Island is pushing for a return of the old lever voting machines in city elections.

State senators Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park), Diane Savino (D-Bensonhurst-Staten Island), Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) and Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) are working together for passage of a bill that would allow for the use of lever machines in New York City municipal elections.

“These new-fangled voting machines are a disaster,” Felder said. “Seniors can’t see the ballot text, voters are confused about how to fill out the ballot, and Election Day in New York City has become synonymous with chaos and dysfunction. This is an example where technology has come back to bite us,” he said.

Felder and the other legislators said they believe that the lever machines, discontinued in 2010 and replaced with electronic voting, are the most logical choice to ensure timely results for the upcoming municipal elections, particularly the mayoral race.

At the time the voting system was changed in 2010, the NY Times published an article containing a tutorial, along with illustrations, on the voting process.

The electronic voting machines, where voters fill out a paper ballot and then feed the ballot into a scanner that is read by a computer, could be problematic if no candidate gets a majority of votes in the primary and a runoff election has to be held two weeks later, the lawmakers said.

The New York City Board of Elections (BOE) has already warned that due to the lengthy processing of the electronic vote total, officials might not be able to hold a run-off election with the electronic machines.

The last election was more than four months ago “and the New York City Board of Elections is still finding ballots to be counted,” Golden said. “It’s evident that the electronic machines cannot handle the two week turn around required for a runoff election, which is a likely presumption as the field of candidates grows,” he said.

Golden called the return of lever voting machines “a simple solution that doesn’t involve re-inventing the wheel.”

The city has lever voting machines stored in warehouses, he said.

"After watching the BOE waste time and resources going back and forth trying to figure out what to do with the upcoming municipal elections, we believe the best and simplest solution is to use the lever machines. This would allow the BOE to use a trusted method that will ensure all votes are counted in timely manner," Savino said.

“The BOE has had problems executing elections of all sizes in the last year because of all the time it takes to tally votes, determine top candidates, print ballots and test the new machines,” Lanza said. “Lever machines, despite their aged technology, are actually more transparent and reliable than electronic voting systems,” he said.

Lever machines were used in New York City for 50 years.

Betty Ann Canizio, a Democratic Party leader in Bensonhurst, said she doesn’t think returning to the lever machines is a good idea. “Do we want to go backward? I don’t think we should,” said Canizio, the Democratic Party district leader for the 49th Assembly District.

“We’ve had the electronic scanners for several elections now. I have 92 election districts in my district and we’ve never had any problems. As for seniors having trouble with it, well most of our polling inspectors are seniors. You’d be surprised by how quickly they picked up the new system. They’re quite savvy,” Canizio said.

Kevin Peter Carroll, Democratic district leader in the 64th Assembly District, said he favored keeping the electronic voting in place. "I think switching back to the old lever machines will be too confusing to the voters," he said.

"I would also question whether we should spend all of that money to make the switch," Carroll added.

Carroll also said, however, that he would have liked to have kept the lever machines in the first place and not made the switch to computers. "I think we needed to upgrade the lever machines rather than go to a whole new system. But now that we havfe, we should keep the current system in place," he said.

Canizio likened bringing back the old lever machines to forcing drivers to “go back to the horse and buggy.”