E-voting machine woes stop some voters in New York

Reports that machine shutdowns are causing long delays in casting votes in New York primary election

Problems with electronic voting machines at several polling locations across New York state were reported today as voters attempted to cast ballots in the state's primary election.

The state is one of the last to use voting machines that comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) legislation.

According to a report in the New York Times today, the opening of some polling sites in Brooklyn was delayed by up to three-and-a-half hours because election workers were unable for a time to get new optical scan systems to function.

And in those polling stations that opened on schedule, some voters had wait for lengthy periods before the new systems would accept completed ballots, the newspaper said.

New York City Board of Elections officials couldn't be reached for comment on the problems.

In Pelham, in Westchester County, three out of five optical scan machines could not be used for hours because of a glitch involving paper feeds, according to an Associated Press report .

Voters were either turned away or given emergency paper ballots during the two-and-a-half hours the machines were down, the AP reported. The AP later reported that the problem was traced to glue on the back of some paper in the machines.

Around mid-morning today, two of four new optical scan machines at a polling station in Syosset, a community in Nassau County, started generating error messages after voters had cast their ballot. The machines were taken out of service for a time, according to a report in the Syosset Patch online news site. The patch reported that the problems occurred when paper ballots clogged two machines.

The primary election is the first following New York's decision to finally start using HAVA compliant systems. The HAVA legislation, passed by Congress, was prompted by controversies associated with the 2000 Presidential elections. The law requires that all mechanical voting systems be replaced with e-voting systems that can maintain a paper record of every vote cast.

New York's new paper-ballot and scanning system requires voters to mark their choices on a paper ballot using a pen or a ballot marking device and then insert it into the scanner.

According to an official description (download pdf) , the new system uses 11 x 17 -inch paper ballots, smaller than those used in the lever machines used in previous elections. The scanner tabulates votes at the end of polling.

In New York City alone, some 36,000 poll workers were trained to use new technology while the city conducted performance tests on close to 5,700 optical scanners and ballot marking devices.

The city has had to renovate more than 150,000 square feet of space at its voting machine facility to store the new systems.

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