[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 4, 2005

Hasten voting reform

All of us who witnessed the horrors of the ballot discrepancies in the 2000 Presidential election realized voting reform was needed.

One person, one vote is the bedrock on which our democracy is built. Each vote must count.

We New Yorkers with our sturdy century-old lever machines were at first puzzled to hear such phrases as "hanging chad" coming from Florida election officials.

An election could be decided on how cleanly a hole was punched on a ballot.

Clearly reform was needed and there is much to commend the Help America Vote Act passed two years ago. The law calls 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.

The act’s requirements for private voter review and confirmation of the voter’s choice, and for accessibility for the handicapped and for voters who don’t speak English are all worthwhile.

Most essential, though, is the requirement that there be a permanent record of hard-copy ballots in case of a recount, which can also be used as an audit trail.

We have covered several local elections where the outcome has been decided in the recount. Without a readable paper trail, the results would have been different; democracy would not have been served.

While the aim of the Help America Vote Act is to create uniformity throughout the country by requiring each state to meet the law’s requirements, how each goes about that — such as choice of voting machines — is left up to individual states.

The New York Legislature, as it has at so many critical junctures in recent years, punted. It would make far more sense to have a single, consistent state-wide system. New Yorkers could all be educated on the new voting process in a single campaign.

As it is now, each county or even each election district will make its own decision on the voting method to be used. The governor signed the legislation on July 12 and by Aug. 12 a committee is to be appointed to help the state Board of Elections determine what machines meet standards set by the Vote Act.

We favor optical-scan voting, the fastest-growing voting method in the United States. With optical-scan, voters fill out their cards — marking the circle next to a candidate’s name — in private booths before having them reviewed by a scanner.

As required by the Vote Act, this method allows voters to see if, for example, they accidentally voted for two candidates, which would invalidate the vote, or if they forgot to vote for a candidate. With this method, voters know instantly their vote is counted; errors can be corrected on the same ballot or with a replacement ballot.

Most importantly, while votes can be tabulated rapidly electronically, the actual ballot marked by a voter is used in a recount. This is the most reliable method.

With an electronic voting machine, voters can also check if their votes have been reported as expressed but this voter-verified ballot produces paper printed in small type likely to fade with time. The re-count is less direct.

Another concern for New York voters is the state’s tardiness in establishing a database of all its registered voters. The Help America Vote Act requires that the database be in effect by the start of the new year.

This is important for the enfranchisement of all voters; New York should stop dragging its heels.

The act and how it is implemented will affect every one of us who votes. If we value the democratic process, we should make our views known.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

[Return to Home Page]