New York voters will be using new voting machines in the 2010 general election. The machines were used in most New York counties for the primary voting in September but this will be their first use in the larger and more complex general election.
I voted in the Republican primary in Monroe County. I had thought that I would be using a touch screen voting machine but the method chosen by the state was an older technology, ballot scanning. The primary revealed some pluses and minuses to this method that will impact the election on November 2.
The ballot consists of instructions and a list of offices and candidates, in a format similar to what the voter used to see in the old lever style voting machines. The ballot is completed by the voter making fully an oval or circle below the name of the candidate they are voting for. The polling site will provide the marker or pen, a “ballot marking device”.
The ballot is sizable, much larger than a sheet of typing paper, and has TWO sides. Just as with the lever voting machines, the offices being voted for are in the columns and the parties are in rows along the left side. The candidates and their ovals are in the boxes where the columns and rows intersect.
Most voters did not vote in the primary so this will be their first experience with the new method. In the primary, I saw one voter error where the instructions called for voting for two of the three listed candidates and the voter voted for three. Reading the instructions will be very important and they will not be in an especially large font.
After filling in the ballot, it will need to be scanned. A privacy sleeve covering the ballot should be provided by the polling site but it is not inserted into the scanner. The ballot needs to be inserted into the scanner far enough that the feed rolls can catch the ballot and slide it the rest of the way in to the machine leaving the voter holding the now empty sleeve.
It took three tries for the scanner to feed my ballot. About four inches of ballot needed to be fed into the scanner for the machine to pick it up. After the ballot is scanned, a verification message will appear on the scanner’s screen. If there are any marking problems with the ballot or any errors, that will also appear on the screen and the voter may have to make changes to their ballot or obtain a new one.
Having spent some time working in a business that operated copy centers, I am aware of issues that can arise with the operation of these machines. The ballot scanners also come with their own unique issues, such as the 45 minute boot up time before the machine is usable. The New York Board of Elections Primary Election Pilot Report noted this as the most common surprise to workers preparing the polls to open.
Other issues that may arise have to do with the preparation and operation of the scanner. Feed rolls should be clean in order to catch and move the ballot through the scanning process. The scanning sensors should also be clean and dust free. The ballot is printed on a heavier stock of paper but as the machines are used some paper dust is to be expected. How will heavily used ballots scanners react late into Election Day? Will ballots jam the feed or sensors become dust covered?
The change to this method of balloting will mean that poll workers will be providing much more assistance to voters. The voters themselves will be taking more time in completing and then scanning their ballots. In busy precincts, lines will be long and the issues of poll closing times may arise at the end of the day.
Election 2010 will result in changes in government in New York, and changes in voting. It remains to be seen what those will be.