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Legislators Fight To Avoid Costly Use Of New Voting Machines

Schimel, Martins spearheaded push to allow villages, school districts and special districts to continue to use lever voting machines

Reaching across the aisle, working together to save their constituents the considerable expense of a costly state mandate, New York State Senator Jack Martins and New York State Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel fought for legislation that they say “ensures the democratic process will go on in local communities without a costly mandate that would ultimately have to be borne by taxpayers.” The Republican state senator and the Democratic assemblywoman combined forces to pass legislation that allows villages, school districts and special districts to continue using lever voting machines as they have in the past for an additional two years. Without this legislation, local governments and school districts would be forced to purchase or rent electronic voting machines at an exorbitant cost or use paper ballots in conducting their local elections.

Two years ago Senator Martins and Assemblywoman Schimel fought for, and won, a two-year extension permitting the use of the old lever machines for villages and special districts. School districts enjoyed that right under the original law. And although at this point in time they continued the fight, seeking permission to permanently opt for the old machines, they feel very fortunate that they have been able to “win” another two years. Local officials plan to use this time to work together to develop a cost-efficient plan for the future.

Assemblywoman Schimel reinforced the idea of developing a plan, saying that “Both the assembly and senate have agreed to hold either roundtable discussions or public hearings on elections for non-partisan elections bringing together village officials, school boards, county board of election commissioners, and advocates for the disabled, to try to resolve this important issue.”

Senator Martins, who chairs the state senate’s standing committee on local government, stated: “The new scanner machines were intended to move us forward, but unfortunately were a huge step back for many. There are school districts, villages and special districts that simply do not have the access to the scanners. As the law stands, their only alternative would be a paper ballot and in this day and age it is not acceptable that we regress to a paper voting system. The prospect of our school districts and villages having to count thousands of paper ballots is absurd. Rather, the only way to ensure the integrity of every person’s vote is to allow for lever machines when scanners are not available. This bill does that.”

Senator Martins continued, adding that original legislation provides “significant relief to local school districts, villages and special districts from the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) mandate that was intended to apply only to federal elections that have higher voter turnout and less annual costs to administer elections using optical scan voting machines.”

Nassau County Village Officials Association President Ralph Kreitzman, mayor of the Village of Great Neck and a member of the New York Conference of Mayors executive committee, offered his gratitude “on behalf of my village, the 64 Nassau County villages and all of the villages in New York State.” He stated: “In today’s difficult economic times and with the real property tax cap in effect, this legislation will save taxpayers millions of dollars without adversely affecting anyone’s ability to vote.” Mayor Kreitzman said that the current election procedure costs his village (with just under 10,000 residents) about $1,600 for each year’s elections. If his village were forced to use the new machines, the cost would increase dramatically, to approximately $16,000 per year. He also added that “Our other state legislators and the governor need to follow the lead of these knowledgeable and concerned legislators in finding other ways to provide further mandate relief from existing state unfunded mandates and to avoid new ones.”

Working with Senator Martins and Assemblywoman Schimel, representatives of the NCVOA met twice with the Nassau County Board of Election commissioners and their staff. Mayor Kreitzman said that the county board of elections “provided no estimate of cost to use the county’s scanner machines and have indicated that they do not expect to be able to make them available at all.” Even if the machines could be made available, if they were impounded for a long time following a prior election, villages would not be able to hold elections.

Peter A. Baynes, executive director of the New York State Conference of Mayors, agreed that “the last thing” local governments need now is another mandate “which was never intended to apply to local elections.” He and NYCOM commended Senator Martins and Assemblywoman Schimel for understanding the difficulties faced by local municipalities.

Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin, president of the Great Neck Village Officials Association, added her appreciation that this new legislation “will ensure that the democratic process continues to take place without the burden of another mandate placed on local government.”

Robert Lincoln, chairman of the Great Neck Park District Board of Commissioners, was equally pleased with the new law, stating: “We commend our local state representatives who clearly understand the financial impact of foolishly mandated paper ballot voting on local government. It is refreshing to see legislators who take a stand on matters which directly save taxpayers’ money.”

Thanking Mayor Kreitzman and Great Neck School District Business Administrator Terry Hood (who traveled to Albany recently to lobby for the new legislation), Assemblywoman Schimel said that “it made all the difference … it was important that villages, special districts and school districts not have to incur additional costs to run elections in light of the fact that local governments and school districts are watching their bottom lines and rightfully so.”

Senator Martins told Anton Community Newspapers that he “expects” that Governor Cuomo will sign the law “well before the current law expires on Dec. 31, 2012.” The senator said that when a bill passes both houses, the governor “usually signs it because passing a Democratic-led assembly and a Republican-led senate indicates a bipartisan agreement.” Senator Martins said that he does not see any problem with this bill not being signed.