Leo Perl, 2, right, with twin brother Nate, wait for...

Leo Perl, 2, right, with twin brother Nate, wait for their father, Joshua Perl, to vote at Hampton Bays Middle School in Hampton Bays, Tuesday. (Nov. 2, 2010) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Count the ballots in all of Long Island's still-contested races by hand. Every single one of them. It's the only way to ensure a transparent result.

Besides, that's what all of those paper ballots are for anyway.

Years ago, when New York State was considering what kind of machine would replace the venerable lever-and-curtain ones, there were many options.

Among them were touch screens, which we now use every day on phones and computers.

But those, and other machines, got tossed out in favor of ballot-and-electronic reader systems so there could be a Plan B, a backup in case anything went wrong.

Something sure went wrong in Suffolk, where there's been a mile-wide swing in the results in two key races since election night. Which is why Democrat incumbents Rep. Tim Bishop (Southampton) and state Assemb. Marc Alessi (Shoreham) are refusing to yield to Republican challengers Randy Altschuler (St. James) and Dan Losquadro (Shoreham) - who are leading in unofficial results. Monday, Alessi's attorneys obtained a court order setting a Nov. 15 hearing into his request for a hand recount.

Were election-night problems due to human error? Maybe - maybe even probably. Still, in an election where a new technology is in widespread use for the first time, it's far too early to rule out anything, including problems with machines.

Which is why a hand recount also is in order for Bishop-Altschuler and the close 7th State Senate district race in Nassau between incumbent Democrat Sen. Craig Johnson (Port Washington) and Republican challenger Jack Martins (Mineola), who currently is leading.

Note that Republicans are ahead and Democrats behind. Which is why the fight over a hand recount in all three races has become partisan.

It shouldn't be. Because ensuring fair and accurate vote counts in Nassau and in Suffolk should trump the fate of any single candidate or party. It is essential that the public know that the system works.

As it is, faith in the machines already is shaken.

Some voters reported discomfort because they had to remove their ballots from so-called privacy envelopes to hand to poll officials, who fed them into machines. Voters were supposed to keep their ballots in the folder. And they were supposed to feed them - still in the folder - into machines themselves.

One voter e-mailed that she was stunned when a poll worker announced, in front of the crowd, that she hadn't voted in one race and then returned the ballot to her. She filled in the circles in a race she had wanted to leave blank.

The machines flag for voters a potential problem with their ballot, but do not specify what it is. But poll workers were not supposed to insist that blanks be filled.

There is plentiful time for the boards of elections in both counties to dissect, as they should, what went wrong on Election Day. Perhaps poll workers require more training. Perhaps the machines should be retooled. As it is, the Democratic elections commissioner William Biamonte and former Republican commissioner John DeGrace in Nassau have federal and state lawsuits pending on whether the county's machines even work.

But that review process should be separated from counting votes. Residents need to know - and have confidence that the new system can accurately determine who won.

The system was built to include a paper ballot backup. Any recount would take several weeks - under the watchful eyes of teams of Republican and Democrat elections board workers - along with lawyers representing candidates.

The time for Plan B is now.

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