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State may have to scrap voting machines
Gregory B. Hladky,     New Haven Register   09/16/2005

 HARTFORD ? A new federal ruling could force Connecticut to replace all 3,300 of its mechanical lever voting machines by November 2006, but state officials warned Thursday such a move could cause mass confusion.
Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said she doesn?t know if it?s even possible for Connecticut to buy enough machines that comply with the federal mandates by Election Day 2006.

Bysiewicz said New York City and states such as Pennsylvania would also be forced to replace their mechanical voting machines by the same deadline, creating a huge demand for new, computerized machines.

"This decision will create havoc in the election of 2006 if it is implemented," said state Sen. Donald J.

DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature?s Government Administration and Elections Committee.

Bysiewicz has asked state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to determine if the ruling by the federal Elections Assistance Commission is binding on Connecticut.

"This is a stunning decision," said Bysiewicz, explaining that the states have been waiting for years for the EAC to provide guidance. She said the new ruling comes just four months before the federal deadline for compliance with the Help America Vote Act.

A significant requirement of the act is providing access to polling places for elderly voters and voters with disabilities and providing a voting system that will permit voters with disabilities to vote unassisted, to ensure the secrecy of their ballot.

Blumenthal said he believes the EAC ruling is "only advisory," but said his office will also be contacting the U.S.

Justice Department to discuss the issue of how and when the federal voting law would be enforced.

"Our view is that we can reach an agreement," Blumenthal said, saying he expects federal justice officials to take a reasonable approach based on what "best serves" the voting public. "We think it?s perfectly feasible ... that the Department of Justice will permit Connecticut to go forward with its (existing) plan and timetable."

Bysiewicz said new computer-screen voting machines that comply with all the new federal voting standards cost $5,000 to $10,000 each.

The state has received $33 million in federal funding to pay for costs associated with meeting the requirements of the Help America Vote Act. About $6 million of that money has already been spent on programs such as creating a centralized voter database.

Connecticut officials were planning to buy 769 of the new voting machines so there could be at least one in every polling place in the state by Election Day 2006. Bysiewicz said Connecticut?s plan is to have a phased replacement of the lever machines, while giving cities and towns the option of keeping their old machines as new computer versions are put in place.

But the EAC ruled earlier this month that the old lever machines simply don?t meet the standards of the new federal law, which includes a requirement that there be a permanent paper record of ballots cast so there can be a manual audit in case of a recount. Connecticut?s lever machines don?t have that capability.

The new federal law was in large part a response to the massive problems in voting and recounting votes in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.

Bysiewicz said Connecticut is getting competitive bids for the computer-screen voting machines it planned to have available for the 2006 election, but doesn?t yet know what the cost per machine will be.

According to Bysiewicz, this state could, if necessary, use paper ballots of the type currently used in Canada and several states for the 2006 election.

Concern over how the federal commission would rule has been building among Connecticut?s registrars of voters for months.

"I knew it was coming," said New Haven?s Democratic registrar, Sharon G. Ferrucci. "I think any new change would definitely cause confusion," she added, explaining that some voters will inevitably have trouble and be worried they didn?t vote correctly.

Ferrucci said New Haven uses 108 to 112 mechanical lever machines each year, depending on the type of election involved. "The cost factor for a large city like us, or Bridgeport or Hartford, would be enormous," she said.

Wallingford?s Republican registrar, Chester Miller, said his municipality uses about 45 of the lever machines. "We haven?t gotten a definite answer (from federal officials) on what machine would be acceptable," Miller said.

Miller said any type of new voting system would require "the reeducation of a lot of people" ? and not only voters. "Poll workers are going to have to be brought up to speed about how to instruct and help voters," he said.

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