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Voting process has changed

July 9, 2009

In the beginning, there were no voting machines. Actually, at the time of the founding of the new republic, there were few machines of any type.

In the beginning, there were no ballots, never mind secret ones, a concept barely known either here or in Europe. You merely rode your horse or in a buggy, sometimes many miles, to where the candidates awaited you, made your choice publicly, turned around and went home.

In the beginning, there was a limited number of voters and they all looked alike. They were all men; they were all white. They were also all landowners, but this was somewhat difficult to verify by their appearance.

Later on, in the 19th century, various types of paper ballots were used, and the concept of a voter's choice to be secret became inviolable. The campaigns in those days were mean, vicious and downright nasty. Two hundred years later, people could be heard complaining about the tenor of the current campaigns, but they would have to go a long way to match that of the early days.

In the 20th century, the shortcomings of the paper ballot were recognized, and it was decided that a change was needed. Too many hands handling too many ballots presented too many opportunities for shenanigans, other opportunities and outright fraud. To make a long story short, the answer became voting machines.

Fast forward to the presidential election year of 2000. Primarily because of difficulties encountered in the state of Florida, a new federal law was enacted in 2002 known as the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. Most of Florida used punch-card voting machines, as we all learned a new term, chad. To simplify, the new legislation (HAVA) outlawed the punch-card voting machine along with the machine that most of us know (and love?), the lever-action voting machine. The reason given for the latter was that it was not disabled-person-friendly.

Contrary to local popular belief, the lever-action machine was never very popular in most of the USA. It was primarily used in the states of New York, New Jersey, Georgia and Missouri. The most widely used machine in the 2000 election nationwide was the punch-card type, followed closely by optical scan machines. This brings us up to the present day and the upcoming elections in Fulton County.

The New York State Board of Elections has informed the local board that the only machines allowed in the 2010 elections will be the optical-scan voting machines. The local board purchased 30 of these machines last year, and they were used in a limited way by disabled voters. To prepare for this eventuality, the state board has granted the Fulton County board permission to use only these machines in the city of Johnstown and the town of Johnstown in 2009 as test cases. Gloversville and the remaining nine towns will still vote on the lever-action machines.

Some of the media would have you believe that the new machines are from outer space. In reality, we are going back in time to the paper ballot, and you actually get to see your mark on the ballot. Here's how it works: You sign in as previously, an election inspector hands to you the appropriate ballot, you walk into your own personal voting booth, mark the ballot as you would in an SAT test or Lotto, walk out and drop it into the county tabulator. Goodbye. Could it be any easier than that?

Dexter Risedorph is the Fulton County Republican commissioner of elections. He has held that post since 1997.



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