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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 28, 2005

Optical or electronic" No more voting by lever

By Maggie Gordon

The Help America Vote Act was passed two years ago in the wake of the 2000 Presidential elections, which were fraught with ballot discrepancies.

The law called for $3.86 billion to be distributed to the 50 states to replace current voting booths and upgrade the quality of voting machinery by 2006.

Six additions to the current voting process must be provided for voters by the year 2006, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. These new additions are:

— Private ballot review, which enables the voter to see if she has made an error in her voting, such as over-voting, or filling in the wrong circle;

— In the case of paper ballots, voter education provided by election jurisdictions;

— A permanent record of hard-copy ballots in case of a recount, which can also be used as an audit trail;

— Handicapped accessibility;

— Accessibility for non-English-speaking voters, in accordance with the Voting Rights Act; and

— A definition of "a vote" adopted by the state’s government.

New York is currently in the process of making decisions that will affect every voter. The League of Women Voters — a non-partisan political organization meant to encourage informed participation of citizens in government — is one group that has taken a stand on which type of voting machine is best. The League is also concerned that the state will not have its required database of voters established by the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline.

Voting machines

Aimee Allaud, the HAVA point person for the League of Women Voters, said, "The idea of HAVA was to help states upgrade and improve their election procedures...The various elements of HAVA strive to create uniformity in procedure."

One of the procedures that is being changed in New York State is the actual machines that residents vote in. "The League of Women Voters prefers the optical scan method of voting over the electronic," Allaud said.

Optical scan voting is similar to standardized testing, where voters fill in circles on a piece of paper that then cast their votes.

In optical-scan voting, the voter fills out her vote card in a privacy booth and brings it over to a scanner, according to Allaud. The scanner then asks if the choices the voter made are the choices she wanted to make.

"That is a requirement of HAVA," Allaud said. "This is second-chance voting. That means that you check your vote so that if you tried to vote, accidentally, for two people in one office, it would reject it and tell you to try again. That’s an ‘overvote.’ If you ‘undervote’ — that means you didn’t express a choice for office — it asks you to confirm that."

Electronic voting machines are also an option. If a district uses an electronic voting machine, it must then provide a voter-verified paper ballot. "A voter-verified paper ballot will enable the voter to check that his or her vote has been reported as he expressed his or her preferences," Allaud said. "There is no receipt involved, but you will be able to execute a command."

The voter verification will appear behind a transparent plastic screen, showing the vote in the way it was expressed. The voter can then choose to either accept that vote, or try again.

While the aim of HAVA is to create uniformity throughout the country by requiring each state to meet the six requirements, how each goes about that — such as choice of voting machines — is left up to individual states. In New York, each county or even each election district, can make its own decision.

Each election jurisdiction can have up to two different kinds of voting machines, said Allaud. That means there can be optical scan, and electronic machines in one voting precinct.

However, it is mandated that one of the machines be accessible for people with disabilities.

"HAVA does not define disabilities, except in terms of visual disability. However, New York State and its legislation define disability in many ways. Any machine purchased in New York must conform to all different disabilities.

"Optical scan has an accessory machine called ballot-marking machine," Allaud said. "A disabled person would come in, be given a paper ballot, and he or she would take it into the ballot marking machine, which executes the ballot marking for them... Then he or she takes the ballot to the optical scanner."

Everyone votes

The Help America Vote Act also makes it possible for voters who do not have "proper" forms of identification to vote in elections. States must keep a database that lists all the registered voters. "This database will assist in maintaining accurate and up-to-date records of qualified voters," Allaud said.

"The state has not proceeded to establish the database," she said of New York. "It has to be in effect by Jan. 1, 2006, and there is not any way that they can have this up an running by then."

This database will help to ensure against voter disenfranchisement, Allaud said. "Each state had to fulfill the requirements of HAVA in its own way...Some states were much stricter about the interpretation about the language."

This strict interpretation, some feared, could lead to the disenfranchisement of voters, rejecting voters who did not have valid Social Security numbers or driver’s license identification numbers.

"In New York," Allaud said. "The Assembly took a point of view that was more concerned about making sure that voters were not disenfranchised, and the Senate took a stricter view of the interpretation. We felt comfortable with the end result, and we’re hopeful...It was a successful compromise."


Governor George Pataki signed the voting machine legislation on July 12, which requires the appointment of an election modernization committee. "The committee is appointed by various political parties," she said, and includes the Assembly’s speaker and majority leader of the Senate as well as the state Board of Election’s executive director. "Appointments must be made within 30 days of signing the bill, so we might not see that until Aug. 12," she said.

"It is a 12-member committee, with a variety of representatives; however, the League does not feel it is a particularly diverse committee. There are four members from the disability community, but, beyond that, the members are not diverse."

The committee’s job is to "assist the state Board of Election in determining whether machines meet the HAVA standards," Allaud said.

"From the perspective of the League of Women Voters," she concluded, "we were very relieved that optical-scan voting systems were identified as being eligible for consideration — because we were afraid, quite honestly, that legislation would only name electronic voting machines."

Red-hot rockers recruit with music

By Maggie Gordon

The Elsmere Fire Department has a new recruiting technique — a classic rock band.

The band, Playin’ With Fire, consists of five active members of the fire department, as well as one social member, the singer, Kandy Buckley, who is also a paramedic supervisor for the Guilderland Emergency Medical Service.

The other members are: Ned Costigan, a former chief of the fire district; Steve Wright, a past president; Vince Thompson, the current fire captain; Dan Sutherland, a firefighter; and James Reagan, the current assistant chief and also a paramedic supervisor for the Guilderland EMS.

Reagan has been involved with the Guilderland EMS for 19 years, and he has been a member of the Elsmere Fire Department for 30.

"I was interested in the fire department so I joined," he said. "We always have problems recruiting and retaining members, but with this whole band thing we have been able to keep the interest level high."

Wright, a guitarist, is currently the chair of the Albany County Volunteer Recruitment. "We hope to get a little bit of interest from the band," Wright said. "Maybe we can inspire some of the younger kids by showing them that, not only do we have a brotherhood inside the service, but look what else you can do."

Over the last two years, the fire department has developed a policy that limits the membership to 80 people, and it has developed a waiting list — the only one in Albany County, according to Wright.

"It’s not a very long one," Reagan said. "It’s just three or four people, so when someone retires or moves, they fill the spot."

"We’re very fortunate," Wright told The Enterprise. "It’s been a lot of hard work by the membership, and realizing that recruitment is a job for everybody."

Wright has been a member of the fire department for 30 years. "I grew up with it," he said. "My father was a fireman — is still a fireman. He just received his 50 years as a fireman. Last year he was Fireman of the Year for the Delmar Fire Department."

Making the band

"Being a firehouse band, we’ve got the support of the commissioner and we’re able to practice in the firehouse," Reagan said. "Lots of members stop by to listen to us practice, and they tell their friends. It works well for recruitment for volunteer firefighters...It’s kind of fun for people to stop in and listen for a while, and spread the word through the emergency-service circle.

"We’re all older and we all used to be in garage bands," said Reagan, who plays the keyboard.

"I’ve been playing the piano for 45 years," Reagan told The Enterprise. "I just grew up with it. I was taking lessons as a young child. It was a hobby I enjoyed, and I guess I just stuck with it.

"I was in two bands when I was younger, but they were really nothing. We were just fooling around. In years past, when I wasn’t in a band, I had a piano. I got it in an old building and fixed it up," he said, also noting that he now has a baby grand piano.

"Of course, now I have all the electrical stuff," he said with a chuckle. "I made a lot of friends at the music store."

Wright learned to play the guitar when he was in the third grade, after being inspired by the Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He began taking lessons shortly after, and was involved in garage bands during and after high school.

"I stayed away from music for the last 30 years," Wright said. During that time, he was the president of the fire company for nine years, and raised his children. "Then all of a sudden, Jimmy said ‘why don’t we try to get everyone together"’

"Everybody I’m playing with in the band are all friends...We’ve always known each other played, but we never took the time to sit down and see what we could do together."

"We got together in January and we’ve been practicing ever since," said Reagan.

The band has had a few gigs before, according to Reagan, but its first big show was last Wednesday night at Tawasentha Park.

"The Guilderland Police Chief, James Murley, came to hear us at one of our shows," Reagan said. "Kandy and I work for him, so he insisted they host a show for us and all the town employees who want to come."

The band plays mostly classic rock, according to Reagan, and he said some of his favorite songs to play include "Mustang Sally" and "Magic Carpet Ride."

"We only play one Beatles song now," Wright said. "I would like to do more."

While they are working on preparing some original songs, their sets now consist solely of covers.

"I’m having a lot of fun doing what we’re doing," Wright said. "I never thought I’d be doing it again, other than just for my own pleasure. I’m having a blast."

The band will be playing at the Mad River Bar and Grill tonight, July 28, at 8 o’clock and Thursday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m.; the Glenmont Fair on Saturday, Aug. 6, at 6:30 p.m.; the Altamont Fair on Wednesday, Aug. 17, at 8 p.m.; and at the Fort Hunter Fire Department on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 6 p.m..

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