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Agency says lever voting machines don't meet federal requirements

By Susan Haigh, Associated Press Writer  |  September 15, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn. Connecticut's 3,500 lever-style mechanical voting machines may have to be replaced before the 2006 election because a federal commission has ruled the old machines are not accessible to all voters, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said Thursday.
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If local election leaders can't use the old lever machines, they'll be forced in a matter of months to acquire more modern voting machines such as optical scan or touch screen devices, Bysiewicz said.

"The towns will now find out that lever voting machines are off the table as an option. I know that is going to come as a surprise and an unwelcome surprise to towns," she said Thursday.

Bysiewicz has asked Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to determine whether an advisory opinion from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission is binding on Connecticut and whether the state can request an extension.

Both Bysiewicz and Blumenthal planned a joint news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the matter.

Jeannie Layson, a spokeswoman for the commission, said her group advises states on how to comply with the federal Help America Act, created in the wake of the problematic 2000 presidential election. Pennsylvania asked whether lever voting machines comply with the law and the commission found various problems with the old technology, she said.

Layson said it's up to the U.S. Department of Justice to decide whether to require Connecticut and other states with lever voting machines to switch entirely over to the new types of devices, such as those that scan ballots filled in by hand.

Connecticut submitted a plan in 2003 that called for allowing towns to either switch entirely to optical scan machines, or provide at least one such device at a polling place.

The state is in the process of buying 769 voting machines that comply with the law.

Bysiewicz said she's not sure the state has enough money to replace all of its mechanical voting machines. Connecticut received about $33 million from the federal government to improve voting.

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