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And then there were 2-Search for new voting machines is narrowed down

And then there were two.

With a little over a month till a final decision will be made, the New York City Board of Elections has taken the two final contenders for the city’s new voting system out on the road, so voters in each borough have a chance to see the machines and learn how they work.

To that end, voting systems utilizing optical scan technology, produced by Sequoia and ES&S, were set up at the student union building at Brooklyn College, Campus Road near East 27th Street, for the first of five demonstrations, one in each borough, leading up to a public hearing from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., on March 4, at the Board of Elections headquarters, 42 Broadway in Manhattan, at which residents will be able to express their preferences.

Following that, the 10 election commissioners (two from each borough) will vote for the machines they prefer, explained Board of Elections Spokesperson Valerie Vasquez-Rivera. “We’re working on a really tight time frame,” she noted. “We have to have the machines selected by March 31st.” This is to give the company that is chosen time to fill the city’s “huge order,” said Vasquez-Rivera, as well as to allow time for poll workers to be trained to utilize the machines.

New York State is still in the process of certifying the two machines, Vasquez-Rivera said. But, given the tightness of the schedule, she added, “We can’t wait for the state.”

New York is the only state in the nation that has not yet fully complied with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was passed in 2002 in the wake of the contested 2000 presidential election. HAVA requires that voting machines be handicapped-accessible and recountable, and provide a second chance to vote, in case of error.

Accessible machines were provided last year for voters with disabilities; this year, the state must be up and running with a HAVA-mandated voting system in time for the September primary. New York missed the first federal deadline; the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) had previously ordered the state to have new voting machines in place by this past September’s primary.

Activists had campaigned energetically for the state to choose optical scan technology, utilizing paper ballots, contending that they were more reliable than touch screen systems which may produce a paper trail but do not provide original voter-marked ballots for recounting.

With either of the systems, most voters will mark paper ballots then feed them into the scanners. Depending on the how busy the individual polling place is, it will need one or more of the scanners, according to spokespeople for the two companies who demonstrated the equipment, as well as at least one of the handicapped-accessible machines.

ES&S is based in Omaha, Nebraska. Sequoia is headquartered in Denver, Colorado, but has a plant in Jamestown, New York, where the company began.

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