State Senate wants lever voting machines back

The State Senate has passed legislation that would allow New York City to bring back its old lever voting machines for municipal  and state elections

The prime sponsor of the bill – which still would have to be approved by the Assembly and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo before becoming law – is State Senator Marty Golden, who began pushing for the resurrection of the old machines after reports of widespread chaos in the 2012 primary and general elections, in which electronic scanners were used to read and record paper ballots filled out by individual voters. The bill does not yet have an Assembly sponsor.

Given the long waits to vote and long wait for results that characterized the 2012 elections, Golden said he had devised the bill because of concerns that this year’s city elections – for mayor, public advocate and comptroller as well as City Council and borough president – could overwhelm the new electronic voting system, which was put in place in accordance with federal mandates contained in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

New York was the last state to adopt electronic voting, finally switching to new machines in 2010, after being sued by the Department of Justice. HAVA was passed following the 2000 presidential election, with the goal of avoiding a similar situation as took place then, when the presidential election remained undecided for weeks. It was also intended to make it easier for disabled individuals to cast ballots.

However, said Golden, electronic voting brings with it, its own set of problems. In particular, Golden expressed concern over the possibility that – with several candidates running for many posts – there would need to be run-off primaries which are mandated to take place within two weeks of the initial primary should no candidate get 40 percent of the vote. Should hand recounts be required, the legislation contends, it would be “a scenario that would make the run-off impossible to hold in the required time frame.”

“The lever voting machines had been successfully used in New York for over 100 years. They have proven to be reliable and easy for voters to use,” Golden said, also pointing out that utilizing the lever machines “will expedite the canvass of votes cast in the primary election and reduce the number of paper ballots that would need to be hand-counted.”

State Senator Simcha Felder is a co-sponsor of the legislation. He complains that the new electronic voting system is “confusing to people and very hard to read, especially for seniors. The old saying is that ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. To ensure an orderly election new should allow the simple, lever-style machines to be used.”

But, some say that New York doesn’t have to go backwards to cope with the problems that surfaced during 2012’s election cycle.

Citizen’s Union, a nonpartisan good government group, instead advocates for instant run-off voting, in which voters would select candidates in order of preference. Should no candidate get 40 percent of the vote and if their top choice is not one of the top two vote-getters, their vote would automatically go to the next candidate on their list.

The legislation passed overwhelmingly in the State Senate with bipartisan support. Along with Golden and Felder, Brooklyn state senators voting for the measure were Martin Malave Dilan and Diane Savino. State Senator Kevin Parker voted in opposition, State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery were excused, and State Senator John Sampson was absent for the vote.

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