JOHNSTOWN - Several local municipalities will use optical-scan voting machines instead of older, lever-operated machines during 2009 primary and general elections under a statewide pilot program designed to test the new models.
The city and town of Johnstown, all of Hamilton County and parts of the towns of Glen and Mohawk will be required to exclusively use the machines, which have drawn a mixed reaction from local officials.
Fulton County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner John Schermerhorn said the state approached the county Board of Elections with the pilot program. All municipalities throughout the state will be required to switch to the optical models for the 2010 elections, and state officials have said it is necessary to undergo widespread testing of the systems in an actual election to ensure they will work effectively.
"It is critical to the New York State Board of Elections that any voting system intended for use in New York state be rigorously and thoroughly tested to ensure compliance with federal ... standards," said a state Board of Elections proposal for the pilot program.
The state Board of Elections asked local boards of elections to choose sites where they felt the pilot program would be most effective. Machines purchased previously by the county Boards of Elections will be used for the program.
Montgomery and Fulton counties have both spent $345,000 each on 30 electronic voting machines. One such machine is required to be present at each voting location, a requirement that will continue this year.
Schermerhorn said the new machines represent a change from the older lever model, but he said the new machines would do a better job of preventing voter error.
"With the new voting system, it's going to ask you, 'This is how you voted, are you sure?'" Schermerhorn said. "Or if you voted for more offices than you should have, it will tell you that you mismarked the ballot. It's going to be as quick and easy as the lever machines but slightly different."
Both Schermerhorn and Montgomery County Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner Jamie Duchessi said their respective boards would conduct practice sessions to get people accustomed to the new machines.
Not everyone is convinced. The Fulton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in the past month asking the state to continue using the lever machines, and the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors' Education/Government Committee did the same. It joined the state Association of Towns and other counties in supporting the lever machines.
Mohawk Supervisor Edward Paton called the pilot program "a mistake."
"A lot of your older people aren't going to bother to vote-I don't think they are going to want to go in and learn," he said. "They always voted on the lever machines, and I think they want to do that.
"I don't mind if they have a choice," he added.
Schermerhorn said the county will have custodians on hand who are trained to fix the machines if something goes wrong with them, and he said the program was a good way to introduce people to the new system.
Town of Johnstown Supervisor Roy Palmateer said he was excited about the presence of the machines.
"They seem to be pretty user friendly," he said. "They don't look very complicated or anything. I think it'll move along a lot smoother."
Zach Subar covers rural Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org