In the past century, we have seen voting evolve from paper ballots to lever machines and, recently, to electronic balloting. While technology has vastly improved our lives, electronic balloting has not.
Theoretically, electronic voting makes sense: It's less expensive over time and reduces the chance for error -- no repeat of the "hanging chads." But electronic voting is not necessarily the panacea depicted by its supporters. Here's why:
COST. Take this year's Democratic primary in Nassau County. The county Board of Elections advises municipalities to print ballots 10 percent above the total number of registered voters. Based on information from the elections board, the county has 330,000 registered Democrats and 363,000 ballots were printed for $196,650. However, only 31,000 voters participated. The unused 332,000 ballots cost $182,600 to print, and now they must be destroyed.
AVAILABILITY. In 2010, New York State passed legislation requiring electronic voting machines for all elections -- a particular challenge for Nassau's 64 villages, whose 450,000 residents comprise one-third of the county population. Villages are at the mercy of the elections board, or the two companies certified by the state to provide the board with the machines, because the cost of going it alone is prohibitive and the alternative, utilizing paper ballots in larger villages, is impractical.
In the March 2011 village elections, the elections board informed mayors that it could not provide the programmed electronic voting machines because of staffing issues and a lack of a sufficient number of machines. Fortunately, State Senator Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola) and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D- Great Neck) spearheaded legislation that allows villages to use lever-voting machines for an additional two years, sunsetting in December 2014.
TURNAROUND. Primaries, run-offs and other elections can occur in close proximity, requiring a quick reprogramming of voting machines. Consider this: School district elections are conducted in early May, and some require budget adoption re-votes. Additionally, both congressional primary elections and village elections are anticipated in June 2014.
Lever machines are more readily available and easily programmed. This is in contrast with electronic voting machines, which are complicated to program and use, particularly due to the election reform law associated with the electronic machines. It requires a 3 percent audit of machines at any given polling place. The additional time associated with such audits essentially jeopardizes the timely determination of election results because villages are required to certify results by 9 a.m. the day after an election.
In fact, the state recognized the challenge and passed a law that allowed New York City to use lever machines in this year's mayoral primary because scanner machines may not have been available for a potential run-off election. Villages need similar flexibility.
FAMILIARITY. Most village residents with whom I speak say they are comfortable with lever machines and want to continue their use.
So what's the solution?
Make lever voting machines available on a permanent basis for villages, school districts and all other districts requiring election voting machines because, to the best of our knowledge, use of the lever machines remains problem free.
David E. Tanner is mayor of the Village of East Williston and president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association. Mr. Tanner is also a principal in Liberty Capital Services, LLC, which specializes in financial advisory services to municipalities and public agencies.