Nassau County and the rest of New York State is switching over to new electronic voting machines for primary and general elections come the fall. Lever machines, however, will still be used in village, school, library, fire and special district elections for the immediate future.
"We're doing everything we can to make it as smooth as possible, but I think there are a lot of logistical problems," said Nassau County Democratic Commissioner William T. Biamonte.
The Nassau Board of Elections unveiled its new voting machines at several demonstrations across the county in the last few weeks, shortly after Manorhaven residents grappled with a recount of write-in ballots during the June 23 village elections.
Various counties across the state will use different machines, but Nassau residents will be vote with the ES&S DS200 Ballot Scanner, as well as the ES&S Automark for people with disabilities.
The DS200 is a portable electronic voting system containing an optical scanner to read marked paper ballots and tally the results. This system allows for paper ballots to be immediately tabulated at each polling site. The DS200 also notifies the voter of any voting errors. Each machine holds approximately 1,500 ballots.
Electronic scanners mean that the inspectors at each voting site must properly operate each machine.
"Our biggest concern is getting enough quality inspectors that can actually boot up the machines and get it going," Biamonte said. "That's our most daunting task. The other daunting task is with the small budget that the state has given us, we now have to educate the voting public on how to operate these machines."
Once each voter has checked in at the polling site, an inspector will provide them with a paper ballot, a privacy sleeve, and a special pen that each voter must use on their ballot. The privacy sleeve can be used to shield each voter's ballot from view.
After receiving the appropriate materials, each voter will be shown to a booth or designated area to complete their paper ballot in private. Voters should fully fill in the oval for each candidate they would like to vote into office. The DS200 will not accept "X" marks or checks.
Write-in ballots, too, will have new guidelines -- a topic that is especially relevant to Port Washington residents given the recent Manorhaven election and recount. The write-ins caused several problems, but the main complaint emanating from the election was that the slot where the write-in ballot was supposed to be placed did not function correctly.
In the event of a write-in with the new machines, the voter will fill in the oval of the write-in box and then write out the name of the desired candidate.
"What it does is it alerts us that there is a write-in and so at the end of the night when we take the ballots out we will see that there's a write-in," said Regina Corbin, the Board of Elections inspector on hand for one of the demonstrations.
The new machines make the write-in ballots as easy as casting a normal vote. However, there is a drawback.
"Everything is going to be on paper," Biamonte said. "So the paper will be the paper, but the paper is also more easily subject to challenge than a vote on a lever machine. Rather than just challenging the write-in votes, almost everything can be challenged in a close election. They call this optical scanning system the 'Full Employment for Election Lawyer's Act.'"
If a mistake is made while filling out the ballot, the voter can return the ballot to the voting inspector on hand who will then issue a new ballot. The original ballot will be stamped as void and placed in a container with any other voided ballots.
After the paper ballot is correctly filled out, the voter will take it to the DS200 Ballot Scanner and insert it into the machine. The scanner will then read the ballot and alert the voter of any possible mistakes – under vote, over vote, or blank ballot. The voter is then given the option of selecting "Don't Cast – Return Ballot," in which case they will be able to make any necessary changes, or "Cast Ballot," in which case the process is complete.
While the scanners simply show whether or not there is a mistake with the ballot and not the actual votes, there still might be cause for concern that there is nothing blocking others from viewing the results from each voter's ballot.
"They were talking about putting wings on the side of it," Corbin said of the scanners. "This is one of our concerns also…You really can't read how people voted and it won't show them the votes, it will show them a summary."
People will need some time to get used to the new voting system. This has already prompted concern among voters, something Biamonte addressed.
"I think there will be a sense that the change was made for no particular good reason," Biamonte said of the general public's expected reception of the new machines. "We had a voting system that we had confidence in, that we knew worked, that had a limited amount of problems. We're replacing it with a voting system that has numerous problems and I think will foster a sense of lack of confidence in the system."
Any additional New York State voting information can be found here.