Remember those old lever voting machines? They’ll be back for the Sept. 10 primary elections.
Last month, the city Board of Elections decided to use the lever voting machines for the primaries and the runoff that is expected to follow.
The board’s vote came after Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that authorized the return of the machines, which had been replaced in 2010 by the new optical scan voting devices. BOE officials had warned that if they were forced to use the electronic voting machines for the primary and runoff, they might not be able to tally the primary vote quickly enough and then get ready for the runoff only three weeks later. New York City law requires a runoff to be held if no candidate for mayor, public advocate or comptroller gets 40 percent of the vote in the first round.
Cuomo suggested that he was signing the legislation with misgivings, noting his strong belief “that the use of lever voting machines is a poor solution to the Board’s concerns.” The governor added to his message, “Moreover, the proposed reversion to lever machines poses significant problems for voters; indeed, they are often inaccessible to many voters with disabilities and can routinely ‘lose’ more votes than the optical scan systems in each election.”
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who chaired the Senate’s Elections Committee from 2009 through 2011, expressed disbelief with the board’s warning.
“I cannot believe the scanning machines and all their technology are not prepared to handle a runoff election,” he said.
Addabbo said he is opposed to runoff elections in principle, but backs the temporary return to lever machines in this case.
“But since we still have to deal with the possibility of a runoff election this year, we have to make every effort to validly count the votes of our people,” he said.
“The Board of Elections should always work to provide the voters the most accommodating and accessible voting environment possible under all election situations,” Addabbo cautioned. “A common complaint from my constituents is the newer scanner voting machines, and most of those I spoke to are welcoming back the older lever machines.”
BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said the board would be able to tally the vote with enough time before a runoff.
“The board is confident that, using these lever machines, we will be able to conduct the primary elections and the potential runoff,” said Vazquez.
She added that the board believes that New Yorkers will be comfortable using the lever voting machines since they have used them in the past.
“We do not anticipate confusion at the polls on primary day,” said Vazquez.
Many voters were happy to learn that the lever voting machines were coming back.
“I’m all for it,” said Lindenwood resident Ellie Greenberg. She added that people using the paper ballots with the optical scanning machines were totally confused. “They didn’t know whether to make a little circle or to make a dot,” said Greenberg.
“I love that they’re coming back, they should have never left,” said Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, adding, “I think that it’s going to be a nice nostalgic trip.”
Sue Bildner of Lindenwood was also glad to see that the lever machines were coming back. She said many have complained about privacy with the paper ballot system.
“I’m on their side,” Bildner said, “I think the old machines were better.”
Lindenwood Alliance president Joann Ariola said she had never been a fan of the scanning process for voting, adding, “I will be glad to be able to ‘turn the lever’ when I go to the polls on Primary Day.”
A differing view was expressed by Barbara Brumberg of Howard Beach, who cast her vote for the optical scanning machines, saying they “may be easier, cheaper and less apt to break down.”
She added, “the new machines seem more efficient — when they work properly — and take up much less space.”
The legislation also moved the date of the runoff to Oct. 1 from Sept. 24. The paper ballot optical machines will be back for the Nov. 5 general election.