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Electronic Voting

Super Tuesday: An e-voting report from the trenches

A closer look at three states' e-voting readiness


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February 5, 2008 (Computerworld) -- Super Tuesday is here, and 17 states will hold presidential primaries, six will conduct caucuses and one will hold a state convention as the race for the White House continues.

Almost a month after two candidates called for recounts in New Hampshire's primaries, observers will be watching to see how well the e-voting systems work in today's contests.

In interviews with election leaders in New York, California and Alabama, three of the states holding primaries today, officials said they expect to be ready as voters come to the polls.

New York

Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections in Albany, said his state is still in the midst of voting system changes. He said that New York is looking to move from the old lever-style voting machines to a combination of optical-scan and direct recording electronic (DRE) touch-screen e-voting machines by next year.

New York is behind schedule compared to other states that have already moved to e-voting systems, because of protracted legal battles with federal election authorities over requirements for new e-voting systems, Daghlian said.

A key reason for the replacement of the old lever-style machines in New York, like in the rest of the nation, is that they are not handicapped-accessible under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Under the act, voting systems have to be accessible to people with disabilities to allow them to vote without assistance.

Starting this September, every polling place in New York state will have a special ballot-marking device on hand that will enable handicapped voters to cast their ballots on their own, Daghlian said. Currently, most handicapped voters in the state cast their votes using absentee ballots or they have someone assist them in the polling places, he said.

The ballot-marking devices, which aren't ready for today's primary elections, are being tested, while e-voting systems for all other voters will undergo rigorous testing in independent labs by October to determine which systems the state and counties will purchase, Daghlian said. The old lever machines "work fine, they're just not accessible," he said.

Across the state, about 20,000 old lever machines will be replaced, including some that are spares kept on hand when needed.

New York fell behind other states in meeting the HAVA requirements because the state legislature wanted stricter laws than the federal rules, he said. "The state legislature had to pass their own laws to implement HAVA," including stricter rules such as requirements for a paper trail that would document a voter's selections. Also required under state law is the use of a full-screen ballot that contains all of the available choices for voters, rather than requiring voters to move to another screen, he said.

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