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Public Weighs in on New Voting Machines

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New York State is under federal mandate to have new voting machines on line by next November's elections under the Federal Help America Vote Act. But the State Board of Elections is still trying to adopt standards for those machines. Members of the State Board got an earful at the first of three public hearings, held in Rochester yesterday. Bud Lowell at public radio station WXXI reports.

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(The mechanical sound of a lever being pulled.)

BUD LOWELL: "That's a mechanical voting machine. They were developed more than a hundred years ago in Lockport in Western New York. And generations of New Yorkers have never voted any other way. But that is about to change. The Help America Vote Act requires new equipment in 2006; equipment that's accessible to people with disabilities. And the state Election's Commission is now holding hearings around the state on what standards it should set for those new machines. At the first hearing in Rochester dozens of people said they want machines that are accurate, tamper-proof and accessible to people with all sorts of disabilities. Chris Hildebrandt of the Center for Disability Rights says that's been a problem with the old machines."

CHRIS HILDEBRANDT: "Bringing the height down doesn't help somebody who's blind. It helps somebody who's in a wheelchair but it doesn't help somebody who's blind. So the new machines could accommodate a lot more types of disabilities."

BUD LOWELL: "Hildebrandt has used a wheelchair since he was fourteen and he has run into problems voting on several occasions. He says the proposed standards also don't do enough to guarantee accessibility for the blind, for voter with low vision and for people who can't readily use their hands. Hildebrandt says computer technology can easily solve those problems. But others are concerned that it can also leave voting systems more vulnerable to tampering. Voter Jeri Minard of Pittsburg asked the board to avoid pushing the envelope on technology. She wants to make sure hackers can't manipulate votes on the new machines."

JERI MINARD: "Make sure the voting machines you select for me, for yourself and for the people of New York will count our votes precisely and accurately. No abracadabra."

BUD LOWELL: "Time pressures are building as county elections boards around the state wait for the state to approve the standards so they can buy their new machines and gear up to use them by the September primaries. The State Elections Board will meet at the end of January to either decide on approving those standards or send them back for more reworking."

BUD LOWELL: "In Rochester, I'm Bud Lowell."

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