Nassau County is preparing to bid farewell to its tried-and-true lever voting machines and to replace them with electronic ones, most likely by the November election.
The county will be purchasing 1,300 of the new machines — known as digital-scan ballot-reading devices — along with 450 handicapped-accessible ballot-marking devices (which will replace faulty machines purchased by the county in 2008) from Election Systems & Software, at a cost of about $10 million in federal grant money.
“We believe a federal judge will direct us to put them into use this year for the primaries and the election,” said John DeGrace, Republican commissioner of the Nassau County Board of Elections, “even though the county is suing to keep lever machines in place this year.”
The county is buying the new machines because of the Help America Vote Act, which was passed in 2002 in the wake of the 2000 presidential election controversy in Florida. The law states that the country must make the transition to electronic machines to keep voting consistent, and must provide machines that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The reason why Florida was such a fiasco was that it was set up where they had many different counties there using not only different machines, but different voting systems,” said William Biamonte, the county elections board’s Democratic commissioner. “So when the court went to go and order a statewide recanvas, they couldn’t because each system was so different. It was totally dysfunctional.”
But neither Biamonte nor DeGrace believes that the transition from levered to electronic voting machines is in the state’s best interest. “We’re being forced to change to correct a problem that didn’t exist with us,” Biamonte said. “Our lever voting machines are much more reliable than electronic voting, they’ve been tested over and over again, the public has confidence in them, the election officials have confidence in them, and I think time will show that electronic voting will not give us the same level of confidence.”