Never again will you pull a lever to cast your vote—and simultaneously open a curtain—in Westchester County. Instead, voters will use computerized machines that optically scan paper ballots, much like a deposit into an ATM.
The new machines will be used for the September 14 primaries and all elections thereafter.
Bedford residents received a sneak preview at Tuesday's board meeting, where the new machine was unveiled with a demonstration provided by Town Clerk Lisbeth "Boo" Fumagalli.
To watch excerpts from the demonstration, play the video posted with this story. You can try out the new machine at an upcoming demonstration at Fox Lane High School on July 29.
By switching machines, New York State is fulfilling a 2002 federal mandate—the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)—that was passed after the controversial 2000 presidential election. The machine was selected by the Westchester Board of Elections from three options offered by the New York State Board of Elections, including a touch screen-style machine, and the optical scanner, which was ultimately selected.
Voters will still check in at a table at their election district location, but instead of being directed to the old lever machine, they will be handed a paper ballot and a "privacy shield," said Fumagalli. After filling in the bubbles on the paper ballot, and placing it in the sleeve, the ballot is then slid into the machine which resembles in size and design an early-1990s photocopier.
The machine withholds the paper ballot and tabulates the vote upon accepting the ballot. Two buttons—one green, one red—allow voters to cast their votes, or return their ballots.
The new system troublehoots the process, recognizing such errors as as voting for not enough or too many candidates. The voter has the option to return the ballot and correct it, or to cast their vote anyway although it will not be counted.
Voters with disabilities will have new options—also a requirement under HAVA. They'll have access to audio headphones that can read the ballot, and foot pedals that control screen options, such as scrolling down.
Returning the ballot for correction requires voters to hand their ballot over to election officials to be ripped and voided. Some voters have claimed this to be a violation of their privacy; petitioners have lobbied for the ability to void their own ballot.
Additional elections inspectors will be posted at each election district to aid voters with the new process and equipment.
The new voting machine was poorly received by the town board.
"I see Bush v. Gore all over this machine," said Peter Chryssos, deputy supervisor. "Just by virtue of the fact that you have to fill something out, it seems to me it has built-in obsolescence already. Someone must have gotten a very nice contract out of this."
Board member David Gabrielson agreed with Chryssos.
"It sounds like there are going to be very long lines and confusion," he said. "Not because it's a new system, but because what [Fumagalli] described is confusing."
With the new ballot style and different method of filling it out and casting it, many worry the change will daunt voters and keep them away.
"It's taking something that was really very easy, and making it very complicated," Fumagalli said. "The most important thing you can do is to vote. We're trying to be as positive as we can."