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Paper trail called key to voting reform
Albany Advocates say new machines need old-fashioned backup
First published: Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Activists delivered their own "paper trail" of nearly 42,000 signatures to Gov. George Pataki on Tuesday, demanding that the state buy only electronic voting machines that create verification records to prevent mistakes, miscounts and fraud.

Debbie Chess, 66, of Albany, summed up the group's sentiments with the hand-lettered cardboard sign hung around her neck: "No printout = No way to recount votes = No way to have an election."

Taped end to end, enlarged examples of the letters sent to Pataki stretched from the Capitol's west steps to its State Street entrance.

New York is poised to overhaul its voting system as mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, which helps finance modernization of elections. The act requires replacement of old lever voting machines with electronic versions.

But experts say electronic voting machines aren't foolproof. Some models can be easily hacked or can malfunction and miscount votes. Problems with electronic machines in states that already own them are well documented, leading some officials to temporarily ban their use.

Without a paper trail to let voters check to make sure their ions were correctly recorded, electronic machines aren't democratic, opponents say.

"Using a voting machine without a genuine paper trail is like asking New Yorkers to use a bank ATM that never allows you to count your cash or receive a receipt detailing your transaction," said Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Both the Republican-controlled state Senate and the Democrat-dominated Assembly have passed legislation requiring machines with voter-verified paper trails. But the measures don't match up, and therefore can't be sent to Pataki for signing.

A joint conference committee on voting reform met for several weeks last month before the Legislature left Albany, but talks were derailed by the death of the daughter of state Sen. Thomas Morahan, R-Nanuet, the committee co-chairman.

State Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Harlem, the other co-chairman, said a deal on voting reform including a voter-verified paper trail is still possible before the November elections.

"I think we're on the same page and we'll look like pioneering geniuses because few other states have voter-verified paper trails, and lo and behold, many of their machines are getting decertified," Wright said.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, on Tuesday said he supports a required voter-verified paper trail.

Pataki spokesman Todd Alhart said the governor "supports the concept of having reliable voting machines, but how that would be accomplished is something that we'll have to work through as HAVA negotiations progress."

The state has received $68 million in federal funds to help pay for modernization, but can't use the money until the Legislature agrees on a reform plan.

New York is slated to receive another $150 million in HAVA money, but will not get it until the state puts up 5 percent in matching funds, said Peter Kosinski, acting executive director of the state Board of Elections. Pataki included about $10 million in his 2004-05 budget proposal, but it can't be released until a budget agreement is reached.

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