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Nassau sues to block use of optical-scan vote machines

Raising the specter of Boss Tweed-era ballot fixing, top Nassau elections officials have filed a lawsuit against the state to block the use of new optical scan voting machines, claiming they are "vulnerable to tampering" and "widespread . . . fraud."

Commissioners John DeGrace, a Republican, and William Biamonte, a Democrat, filed suit in state Supreme Court in Mineola Tuesday, saying the state law requiring use of the new machines violates the state constitution. County officials also say they cannot have new machines ready until 2011.

In court papers, County Attorney John Ciampoli said the law jeopardizes state elections by "disregarding highly regarded lever machines" used for nearly a century "and substituting computerized voting technology that is notoriously vulnerable to systematic hacking, tampering, manipulation and malfunction."

The suit contends that required use of optical scan machines is unconstitutional because it could disenfranchise voters, place the secret ballot in jeopardy and put bipartisan counting of ballots "into the hands of third-party software engineers."

Nassau's suit is just the latest legal battle over implementing the 2002 federal Help America Vote Act, which funds new handicapped accessible voting machines following the disputed 2000 presidential election. New York, the only state yet to comply, is already under a Justice Department consent decree to start using the machines in the fall primary.

John Conklin, state elections board spokesman in Albany, and the U.S. Justice Department, declined to comment.

Earlier, Nassau tried twice to intervene in the federal case that led to the consent decree but was rebuffed. Suffolk County also sued but without success. "We strongly support their intent," said Dan Aug, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Levy, "But we went down the road twice and were denied."

In their suit, Nassau officials warned that problems are akin to abuses in the late 1800s when the infamous William M. "Boss" Tweed "would announce the results of elections without counting the ballots."

Elections officials also say that state delays in certifying machines until December now leaves the county with little time to test, prepare and store the 1,200 new machines or train workers to run them.

"The counties are where the rubber meets the road," Biamonte said. "And the timeline the state agreed to is absolutely ridiculous."

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