Questions surround vote discrepancies on East End

Boxes of ballot bags are stored inside the

Boxes of ballot bags are stored inside the board of elections office, Monday, in Yaphank. (Nov. 8, 2010) (Credit: James Carbone)

ALBANY - Huge swings in vote totals from two House and Assembly races on the East End have sparked questions about New York's new voting system. While similar problems have yet to seen elsewhere, most county boards still must recanvass ballot scanners, which is how the disparate totals were discovered in Suffolk.

"It's not unusual for a recanvass to change results," John Conklin, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said Monday. "I'm not aware of any as dramatic this year as in the 1st Congressional District."

Here are answers to some of the questions being raised:

 

Did such discrepancies occur with the old lever voting machines?

Yes, and unlike the new voting system, the lever machines do not leave a paper trail that can be examined afterward. The paper ballots used last Tuesday can be counted by hand to verify ballot-scanner tallies. "It's not uncommon for an elections inspector to transpose a number, whether it's with the lever machines or the optical scanners," Conklin said. "This has happened before."

 

What does the election law require?

The law stipulates every effort is made to count every vote, and sets out a procedure to verify the unofficial tallies from election night. "Mistakes are part of the process in coming up with unofficial results a few hours after the polls have closed," said Lawrence Norden, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. "The good news is we have enough redundancies in the new system so that we can be fairly confident in the end we are counting as many votes as possible."

 

What corrective steps should be taken? Should the new voting system be scrapped?

Restoring the lever machines doesn't solve the problem. They also don't comply with new federal and state laws. "Human error was involved. . . . It's very difficult after a long day to transfer data from the machines to the election board's headquarters," said Aimee Allaud of the League of Women Voters. "More training of election inspectors is what is needed." Norden added that computer software in the ballot scanners must be changed so voters are told about mistakes before ballots are counted so they can be corrected.

 

Why are the House candidates raising money to pay for the anticipated recount fight?

Federal candidates can dip into their campaign treasuries to cover legal fees in recounts or establish a separate fund not governed by standard campaign contribution limits, said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. However, the money raised for recounts cannot be used for other expenses or transferred to campaign treasuries, he said.

With Reid J. Epstein

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