New voting machines needed a little TLC in Tuesday's primaries
By LAUREN STANFORTH, Staff writer
First published: Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Eight poll workers huddled around Albany County Board of Elections technician Joshua Rutnick as he fixed a brand-new electronic voting machine that made its debut at the First United Methodist Church in Delmar for Tuesday's primary.
The polls had been open for 25 minutes, and already two voters at the church had to cast their paper ballots without feeding them into the optical scan machine, which tallies the votes. The poll workers peppered Rutnick with questions about the problem. It turned out to involve a glitch in the machine's software that was supposed to have been fixed already by the state and the machine's manufacturer.
"One thing at a time," Rutnick patiently told the group.
The machine flap, which also popped up at a locations in Bethlehem and Colonie, was quickly remedied by election technicians and would not affect the official results, county officials said. Getting kinks out like this one is what pilot programs are for, said Rutnick.
Most counties chose to conduct the pilot programs to test out the new optical scan systems, which will be required for all elections in New York in 2010. Albany used it at 15 sites Tuesday while Schenectady and Saratoga counties each had them at three polling places. The machines will be back again at the same sites for November's general election. Rensselaer, Columbia, Warren and Washington counties opted out of this election season's trial run.
The machines require voters to mark a paper ballot, which is then fed into a computer that scans the vote and tallies the results. The paper ballot drops down into a secure box.
New York is the last state to banish the lever-action machine.
Kathleen Kalmer, 46, of Slingerlands, who voted at the Delmar church, found the new way of voting familiar and easy.
"It's just like high school and all those tests you have to take," she said.
At the Westmere Fire Department in Guilderland, voter Herb Brown, 73, said he found the optical scanners more secure than the old lever machines because a paper ballot exists with his vote on it.
"It scanned exactly the way I wanted it to," Brown said. "No hanky-panky."
Poll workers at the Westmere site, however, had to face a question about the new system early on. A voter marked too many candidates, the machine let him know it, and so he needed a new ballot. The county requires the incorrect ballot be kept to make sure it is not counted. But the man refused to give it up and walked out the door with it. Unbeknownst to the poll workers there, a new blank ballot may not be issued until the voter gives back the mis-marked one.
In Schenectady County, the Princetown Town Hall site had a machine flub when two ballots jammed and didn't drop down into the box on the machine. The county had a technician on-site all day to address the issue, which required pulling a roller down inside the machine.
Local boards of elections specifically chose lesser-trafficked locations to break in the new voting systems gently. For example, the machines were not tested in the city of Albany for the mayoral primary.
At Princetown Town Hall, seven people out of 32 possible voters had shown up at the polls by 4 p.m.
"It'll be interesting when we have a crowd," poll worker Ann-Marie Gray said about the new machine.
Lauren Stanforth can be reached at 454-5697 or email@example.com.