The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Local News -

November 27, 2007

Poll access for disabled heats debate

2 Otsego officials oppose ballot markers at every site

By Tom Grace

Cooperstown News Bureau



On Dec. 20, New Yorkers could find out what kind of new voting machines they’re getting, and how soon they’ll be installed.



On that date, federal District Judge Gary Sharpe of the Northern District of New York is scheduled to meet with federal Department of Justice lawyers and state elections officials.



The DOJ has sued New York for taking too long to install new, handicappedaccessible voting machines and has asked Sharpe to force the state to put a ballot- making device in every polling station next year.



These devices, known by brand names such as Auto- Mark, allow disabled voters to cast ballots independently. They come equipped with puff-sip, Braille and audio accessories meant to make voting easier for people with a variety of disabilities.



And they are meant to work with optical scanners, not computerized voting machines known as DREs, which have their own handicapped- accessible features.



For about three years, advocates of scanners and DREs have been vying for New York’s market, but Sharpe may have the last word, according to Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections.



``If we have to put a ballot- marking device in every polling place, I think that would be a nail in the coffin of the DRE,’’ Daghlian said Monday.



To put an AutoMark or similar device in every polling place would cost about $50 million of the $180 million in federal aid that New York has to transition to new equipment, said Daghlian.



With ballot markers already in place in 2008, most counties would probably opt to purchase scanners to make their systems complete and compliant with the federal Help America Vote Act.



Some counties might still opt for DREs, but the playing field would be tilted toward optical scanners, and the idea of scrapping about $50 million in equipment after one election cycle seems absurd, he said.

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