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Watchdog: Privacy concerns at the ballot

Long Beach resident Ellen Attanasio votes at Lindell

Long Beach resident Ellen Attanasio votes at Lindell Elementary School in Long Beach on Nov. 5, 2013. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

On Election Day, the poll workers make a numbered list of voters. I was told the list is made as a courtesy to the political parties. The board of elections told me if I ask poll workers to leave my name off the list, they should honor my request. But they don't.

Frank Dombrowski, Bellmore

At the heart of Dombrowski's letter is a concern about privacy: If a numbered list of voters' names is kept, just how private can each vote be? Is it possible that the number can be correlated with a ballot, revealing the vote to prying eyes?

The state Board of Elections insists the privacy of all ballots is sacrosanct.

"There is no way to correlate a voter with a ballot," said state Board of Elections spokesman John Conklin. Once ballots "go into the machine, they drop into a tub and there's no way to tell whose ballot belonged to which person."

OK. But why is there a need for a list?

With dates for special elections in two Nassau legislative districts approaching -- Tuesday for the 12th District, March 10 for the 19th District -- we started making calls.

First, some background: Dombrowski began asking about the issue more than a decade ago and brought it to our attention last summer. His files include a 2003 letter from the Nassau County Board of Elections advising that, yes, he could keep his name off the list.

"We are writing to you today with regard to your question pertaining to the list that is compiled by our inspectors on Election Day. If you request that your name be omitted from the list, the inspectors should honor your request."

But it didn't work that way. In the years since, "they always give me a hard time," he said when we spoke. "The last time I voted, my wife overheard the guy say, 'Leave his name off and then put it on after he leaves.' I was annoyed that they would be so brazen about it."

We asked the Nassau Board of Elections about the list and got a call from John Ryan, attorney for Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Louis Savinetti. Ryan said he was speaking for the board's Democratic commissioner as well:

Is the list required by law? Ryan: "No, it's not." Conklin, of the state Board of Elections, confirmed that nothing in state law requires keeping a list of voters' names.

Then why keep a list? Ryan: "It's a custom that has gone on for many, many years throughout the county and the state. The bottom line of the practice is the list is used to promote voting turnout."

He said the list is made available to political parties and candidates so they can see who has voted and focus get-out-the-vote efforts on names that haven't shown up.

Can a voter opt to have his or her name excluded from the list? Ryan: "No. The fact that they vote is a public record. Who they vote for is private. But when they sign the book, that's a public record."

Dombrowski said he accepts the explanation that the current voting system -- scanning a paper ballot into an electronic scanner -- isn't likely to track someone's vote. He's less convinced that lever voting machines are as trustworthy.

Was keeping track of a voter's ballot possible on lever machines? "Absolutely not," Ryan said. "Not even back then."

-- JUDY CARTWRIGHT

The long-delayed construction of a sidewalk along a busy stretch of road in Commack didn't meet its anticipated 2014 start.

The concrete replacement for a 200-foot-long strip of asphalt on Hauppauge Road west of the Commack Public Library was expected before the end of last year. It is part of a larger Huntington Town project that calls for new traffic signals and turn lanes at nearby intersections. The sidewalk will link the library, Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, and Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center.

Reader Herbert Meisen of Commack let us know the work was not on schedule. "To date, nothing has been done," he wrote early last month. "With the cold winter weather, I have no hope of anything being started before spring."

Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town is in the process of purchasing traffic signals and reviewing vendor quotes for sidewalk installation.

The project's "design work had to be completed, and some design issues had to be addressed," he said, and a public hearing on the traffic signals was necessary, followed by a town board vote and selection of a contractor.

"Now, of course, weather is a factor," Carter said, adding that work should begin as soon as weather permits.

The three "rest in red" traffic signals on Daly Road -- at Blacksmith Lane, Wicks Road and Willoughby Path -- will turn green only if a driver is traveling at the speed limit, Carter said.

Hauppauge Road will be reconfigured for right-turn lanes for east- and westbound traffic and pedestrian countdown signals will be installed on Daly Road at Hauppauge and Larkfield Roads.

-- MICHAEL R. EBERT

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