Lever voting machines OK but district may go optical

The Board of Education will consider whether to keep using lever-action voting machines in elections, said board President Patricia Riedel after state legislators approved a two-year extension for their usage by school districts and villages.

"We had always liked" the lever machines, Riedel said today, but after recent complications in the Rome district’s May election Riedel said the board will have to discuss whether to convert to new optical-scan machines.

The state legislative session last week passed a bill allowing school districts, villages and special districts to use the lever machines until Dec. 31, 2014 instead of the prior deadline at the end of this year. The New York State School Boards Association supported the action among laws that it said will ease operations for school districts.

The lever machines have been phased out of general public elections, but the extended date for districts and villages is intended to relieve various transitional concerns. The Utica school district is the only one in Oneida County currently using optical-scan machines, said county Republican Election Commissioner Pamela Mandryck; the new machines are geared to improve voting tablulation and overall efficiency long-term.

Riedel previously had said the Rome district preferred lever machines, citing ease of usage and cost plus other factors. But the district’s May election for school board seats included issues with how voters were instructed to cast write-in votes, and the machine totals from one site were transcribed in error. Riedel said "it basically wasn’t the machines’ fault," and noted the "human error problems."

County election officials will be meeting with village and school district representatives to "get a feel" for how they will proceed regarding the lever-machine extension, said Mandryck. Under election law, the lever machines all are owned by the county Board of Elections, she said.