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The return of the lever pull: To prepare for runoff, BOE goes Lo-Fi

A voter enters a polling station in a

A voter enters a polling station in a public school. Credit: Getty Images

Voters will experience a blast from the not-too- distant past Tuesday when they use the old lever voting machines to cast their primary ballots.

The city Board of Elections pushed for the one-time use of the retro devices, which were last used in the 2009 election, primarily because they are better suited to a two-person runoff.

“It’s a much more shorter time process to change it to a two-person contest,” BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said.

But not everyone is convinced the old ways are the best.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, the chair of the governmental operations committee and a candidate for Manhattan borough president, said she is concerned that voters will be confused by the temporary change.

“I think it’s weird for 21st century to be available and then go to the lever machines,” she said. “I’m not hopeful, but I might be wrong.”

The board asked state lawmakers to move the primary date to the summer to give them more time to prepare for a runoff, but Albany leaders denied the request.
Vazquez said the denial forced the BOE to go with Plan B: the return of the lever machines just for the primary election. The legislature and governor approved that request in July, as well as a new Oct. 1 runoff date, instead of Sept. 24.

More than 5,000 machines have been in storage since 2009, the last time they were used in an election, Vazquez said, adding that they have gone through a complete inspection.

The benefit of the lever machines is that unlike the more modern digital ballot scanners, there is virtually no wait time for producing the results once the polls close, Vazquez said.

“With the scanners, we would have to print out the ballots, certify it and then put out the results. With the lever machines there is no print time,” she explained.

Vazquez noted that the board won’t go completely low tech, as BOE workers with tablets will be on the scene to make sure the process goes smoothly.

Still, some voting groups, such as the city’s League of Women Voters, say they remain cautious about the process and have vocally expressed their concern.

“Audits of the optical scanners have clearly demonstrated that they are reliable and accurate. We are confident that the testing and auditing requirements can be adjusted without sacrificing the accuracy of the election,” Mary Jenkins, the co-president of the league, said in a statement.

Brewer argued that there should be a way to reprogram the scanners quickly for a possible runoff, but the board didn’t do enough to make that a reality.

Vazquez, however, said the board has worked hard to make sure the election runs like a well-oiled machine and that New Yorkers get their results quickly and accurately.

“We are confident with the machines,” she said.
 

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