Machine politics! City unveils new voting machines in Boerum Hill

Machine politics! City unveils new voting machines in Boerum Hill
Community Newspaper Group / Jared Foretek

Election Day came early in Boerum Hill this week as candidates Vanilla and Chocolate vied for Best Ice Cream flavor — and who cares who won, at least it was a fair election!

After decades of false starts, the city Board of Elections finally showed off its new optical scanner voting machine, letting constituents at the Raices Times Plaza Senior Center on Atlantic Avenue take it for a test drive.

“It was marvelous,” raved Ralph Allen of Park Slope. “I’m 80, and this is the first time I’ve seen things so clarified.”

Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D–Boerum Hill), who chairs the legislature’s Committee on Election Law, was also on hand to help familiarize voters with the new machines, which will replace the lever systems that have served New York City since Kennedy was president.

With the new machines, voters fill out a paper ballot and feed it into a scanner that not only records the vote, but stores the sheets for the inevitable Bush v. Gore-like challenge.

Carlos Rivera, a nearby resident, said the machines were so good that such a scenario was unlikely.

“It’s simple. People will be able to use it OK,” he said after casting his vote for Vanilla, which appeared to have a commanding lead during our visit to the center.

This being New York, the system is far from perfect. Millman said that other demonstration users have complained that the type is too small on the ballot — the result of a state law which mandates that every race on Election Day must be printed on a single ballot sheet.

Millman said that the problem of small type will be remedied by having a magnifying glass on hand at polling stations.

“We have to make sure our inspectors are well trained,” she said.

A magnifying glass may not be necessary, as a second machine will be on hand at all polling stations that has brail and audio and video capabilities for the disabled.

The new machines are the lingering relic of the 2000 election debacle, when hanging chads, butterfly ballots and “President-elect Gore” entered the national lexicon. New York was the last state to comply with the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which mandated that voting systems be upgraded nationwide to avoid a repeat of that debacle, which ended with a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling that led to a Bush presidency and countless other, how you say, consequences.

Not only was New York State late to upgrade, New York City became one of the last municipalities within the state to select a new system when it awarded the contract for new machines to Omaha-based Election Systems and Software, a contract reportedly worth $50 million.

Mary Riley of Boerum Hill seemed to think the machines were worth the hefty price tag.

“It’s very simple,” she said, adding that the demo put on was very helpful. “You gotta get used to them now because nobody can help you in November.”

The choices will hopefully be easier this fall, as the races on the faux ballots used on Monday featured a number of more-than-qualified candidates — sausage, pepperoni, even green pepper — for Best Pizza Topping.

Now that’s an election that could go to the High Court.