By DAVE GYMBURCH Staff writer

Strough Middle School

Lever-action voting machines that have been phased out of general public elections will be in use for the Rome school district’s bonding referendum Tuesday on a proposed $25.4 million renovation project at Strough Middle School. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The district has the option to continue using lever machines instead of new optical-scan machines until the end of 2012, Board of Education President Patricia Riedel said today. The district likely will do so while perhaps also seeking to extend that deadline if possible, she added.

Asked why, Riedel said "I think...people understand them better....I think because everybody feels it’s much easier for people to use the levers," regarding the preferences of board members and district administrators. Rather than use a pencil to fill in a circle on a piece of paper and then put it into a scanner, she said, voters can "pull down a lever, say ‘yes’ and walk out."

In addition, district officials feel the lever machines in which voters pull a curtain behind them are "much more confidential" than the use of tables to fill out optical-scan ballots, commented Reidel, adding that conceivably "somebody can see what you’re voting." The lever machines also are less costly for the district to use, officials have said.

County election representatives have said that while new optical-scan machines are more expensive to use largely because of ballots that cost over 50 cents apiece, in the long term they will improve tabulation, verification and overall efficiency of the voting process compared to the aging lever machines.

The lever machines are stored at City Hall, and district staffers will set them up at polling locations, said Riedel. The machines are owned by the county Board of Elections, said county Deputy Democratic Election Commissioner Michele Giruzzi. When the school district converts to the new voting system, the county’s optical-scan machines will be used, she noted.

School districts’ option to continue using lever machines until Dec. 31, 2012 was specified in an October 2010 memo from the state Education Department. The memo said the extended date would help address concerns and "practical problems" in the transition for districts.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the Strough referendum vote. The $25.4 million project cost would be covered by state aid at a 97.8 percent rate according to current levels. Although the work would not be expected to begin until 2014, district officials are aiming to secure voter approval now in case the state aid rate is lowered in the future as is feared. A list of polling locations appears on page 3 under the "Meetings" heading.