Voters in 12 Onondaga County towns will use a new voting system for their local elections this November.
According to Republican Commissioner of Elections Helen Kiggins, the county is installing optical scan paper ballot systems in the towns Clay, Elbridge, Fabius, Lafayette, Lysander, Manlius, Marcellus, Otisco, Pompey, Skaneateles, Spafford, Tully and Van Buren.
“About 40 percent of voters in Onondaga County will be using the new system,” Kiggins said.
The towns will use a ballot marking machine called the Sequoia/Dominion ImageCast Marker, which allows a voter with disabilities to privately and independently vote on a paper ballot. Audio and tactile interfaces allow voters with sight challenges to complete their ballot. Voters can listen to the selections over headphones, or view an LCD screen with an image of their ballot that can be adjusted for size and contrast. A “Sip-N-Puff” or paddle device may also be used by voters with limited hand dexterity. Voters without disabilities will also use the machines.
Initially, the voting process will look very similar to what voters are used to, Kiggins said.
“When you go to your polling place, you’ll still sign in with the poll workers at the tables, just like you always have,” she said. “You’ll then be handed a paper ballot and taken to a privacy booth. You fill out the ballot and hand it in and it’s run through one of these scanners, then dropped into a ballot box.”
Kiggins said the new ballots are much like lottery tickets.
“You fill them out the same way,” she said.
Why the shift? It’s mandated by the federal government’s Help America Vote Act of 2002, which was drafted in part to address concerns after the 2000 presidential election. The act mandates that all states and localities upgrade many aspects of their election procedures, including their voting machines, registration processes and poll worker training. In New York state, in order to comply with the law, all lever voting machines are being replaced with optical scanners like the ones being introduced in Onondaga County.
Kiggins said surrounding counties are already using the system.
“In Onondaga County, many towns and the city of Syracuse use multiple ballot systems,” she said. “So in our initial proposal to the court, we had picked three towns, all of which use the same ballot systems. We were afraid they’d come back and demand 100 percent compliance, but they didn’t, so we expanded our proposal to include these 12 towns.”
The disparity in ballot systems makes the shift more difficult, so the county opted to institute the new system in just a few towns at first to see how it worked and to ensure that it could manage any problems.
Kiggins said she expects the board of elections will have its hands full with that percentage of voters.
“We bit off what we believed we could chew,” she said. “We’ll be monitoring those towns very closely.”
The system will be rolled out Sept. 15. It is expected to be certified by December and will likely replace all lever machines in the county by next year. If you have questions, call the Onondaga County Board of Elections at 435-8683.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.