Throughout Long Island, most areas have used the same kind of old-fashioned voting machines for decades. However, in 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was designed to make voting more accessible to voters in the United States.
Due to partisan politics and stagnation that are the norm in Albany, by 2006, New York still had not complied with the law, forcing the U.S. Justice Department to threaten the state with a lawsuit to take away federal funding for the changeover.
Ultimately, localities were given the responsibility to make their own choices. Now, four years later, new voting machines will be implemented for the first time.
Recently, at a demonstration in Albany, I was given the opportunity to try the new voting machines that New Yorkers will be using, starting in the fall of this year. In my opinion, these machines are a step backward. Instead of simplifying the voting process, the new system uses an archaic method of writing on a paper ballot which is then inserted into a scanner.
Voters are given an SAT-like bubble sheet to fill in and then proceed to a voting station. After shielding their sheet from view and making their selections, they walk their ballot over to the scanning machine, which displays instructions on a touch-screen. After voters insert their ballot into the machine, the ballots fall into a locked box. The voter is then asked a series of questions that are answered on the touch-screen.
When I heard about the new voting machines that will soon be implemented in New York, I envisioned a simple yet modern tool. If the machine already includes a touch-screen computer, why not hold private booths in which the voter casts their ballot on the touch-screen itself?
While the old voting machines were antiquated and in dire need of an update, they did represent simplicity; you flipped switches for your choices then pulled a lever to make your vote count. Now, instead of using that model, a more convoluted method will be used, thus creating more room for error and lengthening the process.
I think we are still a long way away from providing voters with a simple, error-free voting method, and while there may not be a perfect solution, we must continue to explore all of our options.