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Elections Commissioners Discuss How To Improve Voting Process

OSWEGO, NY – The general election earlier this month went smoothly, despite a couple bumps in the road, according to Oswego County’s two elections commissioners.

The bumps, however, were greatly magnified due to the intense scrutiny focused on the special election for the 23rd Congressional District, which was held in conjunction with the regular general election.

Democratic Elections Commissioner William Scriber speaks to the Community and Consumer Affairs Committee. Seated in front is Legislator Phil Vasho.

Democratic Elections Commissioner William Scriber speaks to the Community and Consumer Affairs Committee. Seated in front is Legislator Phil Vasho.

Conservative Doug Hoffman claimed an error in the vote count on election night prompted him to concede, thinking he couldn’t catch up with Democrat Bill Owens.

The margin wasn’t such a big one after all, and he “un- conceded.”

As the results became official, the margin was insurmountable, and he conceded again.

“The election went great,” Democratic Elections Commissioner William Scriber told the Community and Consumer Affairs Committee. “We were one of 18 pilot counties; we were the second largest pilot county.”

From 6 in the morning until 9:05 p.m., things went perfectly, he noted.

“We had very few problems. There are some minor things; poll sites are going to need to be changed,” Scriber said.

With the new system, training was a problem, he added.

There were some fantastic poll sites, such as the Elks Club in Oswego, to “long physical labor sites, he said.

“Outside that, the election went fine,” Scriber told the committee. “The three machines that we replaced were paper jams. No machine failed.”

Republican Elections Commissioner Don Wart echoed Scriber’s opinion.

“Everything did run perfectly from the time the polls opened until the time they closed,” he said. “We opted to go into the pilot program because we knew there were going to be problems. You never go down the path of a new program without having some problems along the way.”

They didn’t have the types of problems they anticipated; the machine worked fine, he pointed out.

“We felt the voter turnout in 2009 would be something better for us to sharpen our teeth on (instead of waiting until the larger, state and federal elections in 2010). We felt it was better to take this on this year,” he explained.

Those people who worked the general election worked new machines for the very first time, Wart told the committee. The workers who did the primaries had the advantage during the general election of already having had some experience with the machines.

“Are there some areas that need to be fixed and corrected? Absolutely,” he said.

People want instant gratification with change, they have little patience for letting the process work, he added.

“Instant gratification is where we are. The process will work. There are some things that have to be changed. There are poll sites that are going to be closed; there are poll sites that are going to be moved, there are issues that have to be addressed and we will address them” Wart said. “That’s why we went into a pilot program, to learn those things so we could move forward and take care of those things before the elections next year.”

“As you might expect, many legislators are not happy with how the whole election went. I’m not speaking about the machines. I understand the machines did their job, thank God,” Legislator Louella LeClair said. “The training was, obviously, a major, major, major problem. I was called all day the next day with horror stories.”

The training was expanded, “tripled,” this year, Scriber said.

“They received hands-on training regarding the new system with personalized instructions,” he said. “I think we more than adequately trained them.”

A lot of them probably over-reacted to some things because of the new machines and a new way of doing things, he added.

“How do we train for that, I don’t know,” he said. ”

LeClair told of complaints from poll workers who had to stay at the site until everything was picked up, at one site when the tape came out of the machine there were seven inspectors there “and none of them had a clue what to do with it,” and one instance where a poll worker actually cast the ballot for the voter.

“It was not a pretty picture,” LeClair said. “That’s all I can say.”

Legislator Mary Flett said some of the poll workers trying to call in reports told her that they couldn’t get through the phone lines.

“With everyone trying to report right after the polls close, does create a problem,” Wart said. “Those that get done faster tend to get through, the others get backed up.”

Legislator Barb Brown said she had no horror stories from her district. However, when she went to vote, “a gentleman from the other booth came over to me and said he couldn’t see,” she said. “I think we need portable lights on top of the cubicle things because the lighting in the building isn’t set up for spotlighting.”

Committee chair Kevin Gardner wondered if some partitions could be put up around the booths. If the machine kicks back someone’s ballot, currently, it is possible for someone in line behind them to see who they’re voting for, he said.

That is a concern statewide, Scriber replied. It is being addressed at the state level.

“We appreciate those comments. And, we are going to react to them,” Scriber said.

“Some of these inspectors saw these tapes for the very first time (on election night),” Wart added. “Did we anticipate that part of the process being as confusing as it was? Absolutely not.”

About $16,000 was budgeted for training. The actual cost will likely be closer to $30,000. The commissioners have asked for a budget increase for training for 2010.

It’s “unrealistic” to think someone will walk into a new system and not have some sort of problems at the end of the day (which in some cases could be 18 hours) even after training, Wart said.

In 1997, Oswego became the first county to put election results up on the web, Scriber said. That can cause problems as “web” numbers aren’t official and can change quite a lot, he continued.

“Human error being human error – what is called in isn’t always going to be the right number. People working 17 – 18 hours a day are going to make mistakes,” Scriber said. “That is why we have re-canvas. We don’t recount, we audit; then we re-canvas and we recount.”

Were there results called in on election night (to be posted on the website) that weren’t the results on the tape (of the voting machines)? Yes, the commissioners said.

“People make mistakes. They made them last year and the year before. I am not going to beat them up if they read something wrong,” Scriber said. “Our job is, the day after, to take the tapes and double check the numbers and make corrections where necessary.”

There have always been problems; it just so happens a high-profile race got involved this time, Scriber said referring to the race between Owens and Hoffman.

“But that wasn’t the election. The election was people voted, getting their votes recorded, counted, and the certification. Don and I certified today, ahead of schedule. We usually certify after Thanksgiving,” Scriber said at Wednesday’s committee meeting. “So, I think the process went well; except for a few minor things.”

In the future, the county will go totally computerized, Scriber said.

There will be a cost associated with that, he cautioned the legislators.

Legislator Barry Leemann, chair of the legislature, told the commissioners that he received an e-mail from someone in Scriba saying they had never seen a better run election; it was easy to get in and out (of the Scriba fire barn).

Board of Elections Announces Two New Polling Places

Oswego – Voters in several election districts will select their choices of candidates on Tuesday, Sept. 15, as several primary elections take place across Oswego County. Most of the polling places are unchanged, but voters in two districts will visit new polling places this year.

In the town of Albion, District 2 voters will no longer vote at the Dugway Methodist Church. Their new polling place is the Albion Municipal Building at 15 Bridge St., Altmar. In Constantia, District 3 voters will use the Cleveland Fire Hall on 31 West St. instead of the Bernhards Bay highway garage.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Primary Day.

All of the primary election sample ballots are posted on the Oswego County Board of Elections Web site at www.oswegocounty.com/boe/

Oswego County is one of 18 counties in New York State to test the new optical scan voting system. For more information, or instructions on using the new optical scan system, visit the Web site or call the Oswego County Board of Elections at 349-VOTE.

Voters Can Try Out New Paper Ballot System

OSWEGO – Voters across Oswego County will use a new paper ballot and optical scanner voting system in the Sept. 15 Primary Election and the Nov. 3 General Election. The new system allows voters to clearly review their ballot after they fill it out, and to be confident that their vote is accurately recorded.

Oswego County Elections Commissioners Donald Wart and William Scriber have scheduled several opportunities for people to try out the new electronic voting system. Demonstrations will be held at these farmers markets and events over the next several weeks:

· Thursday, Sept. 3, Oswego Farmers’ Market, 5 to 9 p.m., West First Street, Oswego.

· Friday, Sept. 4, Pulaski Farmers’ Market, 3 to 7 p.m., South Park, Pulaski.

· Saturday, Sept. 5, Fulton Farmers’ Market, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Canal Landing parking lot, South First Street, Fulton.

· Sunday, Sept. 6, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., IGA Village Market, 409 Fulton St., Hannibal.

· Thursday, Sept. 10, Oswego Farmers’ Market, 5 to 9 p.m., West First Street, Oswego.

· Friday, Sept. 11, Pulaski Farmers’ Market, 3 to 7 p.m., South Park, Pulaski.

· Saturday, Sept. 12, Fulton Farmers’ Market, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Canal Landing parking lot, South First Street, Fulton.

· Thursday, Sept. 17, Oswego Farmers’ Market, 5 to 9 p.m., West First Street, Oswego.

· Friday, Sept. 18, 3 to 7 p.m., Pulaski Farmers’ Market, South Park, Pulaski.

· Saturday, Sept. 19, Fulton Farmers’ Market, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Canal Landing parking lot, South First Street, Fulton.

· Thursday, Sept. 24, Oswego Farmer’s Market, 5 to 9 p.m., West First Street, Oswego.

· Friday, Sept. 25, 3 to 7 p.m., Pulaski Farmers Market, South Park, Pulaski.

· Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27, Central Square Apple Festival, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Goettel Park, Central Square.

Instructions for the optical scanner system and voter registration forms are posted on line at www.oswegocounty.com/boe. For more information, contact the Oswego County Board of Elections at 349-VOTE or stop by the office at 185 E. Seneca St., Oswego.

Vanilla Is Favored Among Fairgoers In Test Of New Voting Machines

<br />Election inspector Bill Ingerson shows nine year old Kaycee Goodsell of Sandy Creek how to insert her paper ballot into an optical scanner voting machine at the Oswego County Fair. The Oswego County Board of Elections will demonstrate how to use the new voting system at several events this summer and fall.

Election inspector Bill Ingerson shows nine year old Kaycee Goodsell of Sandy Creek how to insert her paper ballot into an optical scanner voting machine at the Oswego County Fair. The Oswego County Board of Elections will demonstrate how to use the new voting system at several events this summer and fall.

SANDY CREEK – Visitors to the Oswego County Fair chose vanilla as their favorite ice cream flavor, edging out chocolate by two votes, and picked Kenny Rogers as their favorite vocalist, in a test run of Oswego County’s new voting system.

401 people tested the new optical scanner equipment, casting their ballot for their favorite movie, TV show, and other selections in a demonstration sponsored by the Oswego County Board of Elections.

Oswego County is one of 18 counties in a state pilot program that will use the new equipment in the September 15 Primary Election and Nov. 3 General Election. Visitors to the fair used a sample ballot, provided by New York State, to select their top choices in seven different categories.

The top three candidates in each category were:

• Best Ice Cream Flavor: vanilla, 81; chocolate, 79; and butter pecan, 48.

• Best Movie: Gone With the Wind, 92; Wizard of Oz, 64; and Star Wars, 43.

• Best Actor/Actress: John Wayne, 115; Katharine Hepburn, 64; and Meryl Streep, 59.

• Best Season: summer, 166; fall, 116; spring, 68; and winter, 25.

• Best Artist: Kenny Rogers, 81; George Strait, 73; and Neil Diamond, 66.

• Best TV Show: CSI, 84; MASH, 50; and All in the Family, 45.

• Best Soap Opera: Young and the Restless, 76; General Hospital, 55; and Guiding Light, 44.

• Proposition on Ice Cream Sprinkles: Yes, 264; No, 80.

The Board of Elections will demonstrate the new voting machines at several events around the county this summer and fall. The optical scanner system will replace all of the old lever-style voting machines at all Oswego County polling districts.

For information, contact the Board of Elections at 349-VOTE or stop by the office at 185 E. Seneca St., Oswego. Voter registration forms are available online at www.oswegocounty.com/boe

Voters Reminded of Deadlines for Absentee Ballots

Submitted article

The Oswego County Board of Elections reminds Oswego County residents who are eligible to vote on Election Day, Nov. 4, that if they will be out of the county or unable to get to the polls because of illness or physical disability, they may vote by absentee ballot.

Voters will receive an absentee ballot after submitting an application to the Oswego County Board of Elections, 185 E. Seneca St., Box 9, Oswego, NY 13126. The deadline for mail-in applications is Tuesday, Oct. 28. Applications may be hand-delivered to the Board of Elections until Monday, Nov. 3.

All completed absentee ballots must be postmarked by Monday, Nov. 3 and received at the County Board of Elections no later than Wednesday, Nov. 12.  Absentee ballots may also be hand-delivered to the County Board of Elections prior to the closing of the polls at 9 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Applications for absentee ballots are available at the Board of Elections, phone 349-8350 or 349-8351, or by downloading an application at http://www.oswegocounty.com/boe/index.html.

33,000 North Country Voters Knocked Off Active Rolls

UPDATE:  The voters made ‘inactive’ on Oswego County’s voter registration rolls have had their statuses changed at some point over the last four years, not all at once. See end of story for details.

A statewide voting rights watchdog says more than 1.6 million New York State registered voters — about one in every seven — have been removed from voting rolls or had their status set to inactive in advance of the 2008 elections. The sweeping change includes approximately 33,000 registered voters in Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties.

Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, said on his blog Tuesday that he analyzed the state’s database of registered voters and determined that more than 400,000 registered voters had their registrations eliminated because they had been shown to have moved, died, been sent to prison or for other reasons. But another 1.2 million registered voters had their statuses set to “inactive”, mostly because the registered voters did not respond to a letter sent to their homes telling them that they had to reply to the letter to keep their active status.

According to Lipari, those whose registration statuses have been changed to purged or inactive will not be in the poll books that each voter signs at their local polling place. This story was written after the closing of local offices Tuesday, so it’s not immediately clear how local polls will handle objections from voters who believe they are legally registered. It is possible voters will be allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, which will record their vote but which will require verification in order to be counted.

“There’s no way to know for sure how many of these have been incorrectly removed from ‘Active’ status,” Lipari said on his blog. “But I’ll wager that a significant number of these records are actually legally registered voters who should be allowed to vote on Election Day, but won’t be.”

Lipari produced spreadsheets breaking down numbers county by county. For the North Country, he reports:

  • Jefferson County: 65,494 total records; 3,155 records purged, representing 4.82% of the total number of records; 7,481 records set to inactive, representing 11.42% of the total numbers of records.
  • Lewis County: 18,710 total records; 1,345 records purged, representing 7.19% of the total number of records; 567 records set to inactive, representing 3.03% of the total numbers of records.
  • Oswego County: 86,379 total records; 4,837 records purged, representing 5.60% of the total number of records; 7,658 records set to inactive, representing 8.87% of the total numbers of records.
  • St. Lawrence County: 67,089 total records; 2,562 records purged, representing 3.82% of the total number of records; 5,377 records set to inactive, representing 8.01% of the total numbers of records.

According to Lipari’s data, (spreadsheets here, and here) Lewis County recorded the fifth highest rate of records purged. All four counties were well above the state average, which was heavily weighted down by a low rate of purges in the counties of New York City, Long Island and Orange and Rockland counties.

Lewis County had the lowest rate in the state of records set to ‘inactive’ status. Only Jefferson County’s rate was above the state average for inactives.

UPDATE:

Don Wart, the Republican Commissioner of Elections for Oswego County, tells us that the county verifies a person’s voting status by sending postcards to every registered voter.  If the postcard is returned to the Board of Elections because it could not be delivered, that voter’s status is set to ‘inactive’.  The county does not require voters to respond to the postcards in order to keep an active registration status, as is being done in the boroughs of New York City.

Wart said that if a voter’s status remains ‘inactive’ for two federal elections (meaning, for four years), that voter’s status will be changed to ‘purged’.

Any voter whose status has been challenged can file a provisional ballot at the polling place, Wart said.  He said the office processes several hundreds such ballots each year.  Additionally, a voter can go before a judge on Election Day to offer proof of proper registration to be allowed to vote.

Our interview with Don Wart is below, in mp3 format.

Interview with Republican Elections Commissioner Donald Wart

Handicapped Accessible Voting Machines Demonstrated

OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego County Board of Elections unveiled new, handicapped accessible, voting machines at ARISE last week.

The machines are designed to be used by people with physical disabilities and will be available for registered voters at polling places in Oswego County on Primary Day, Sept. 9, and Election Day, Nov. 4.

Jeremy Hanlon takes part in a recent demonstration of voting machines that are able to accommodate those who may be hearing or visually impaired as well as those who aren’t able to use their hands.

Jeremy Hanlon takes part in a recent demonstration of voting machines that are able to accommodate those who may be hearing or visually impaired as well as those who aren’t able to use their hands.

The ballot marking device was demonstrated at the Fulton ARISE office, 113 Schuyler St., Suite 1, on Tuesday and the Oswego ARISE office, 9 Fourth Ave., Wednesday.

The third demonstration was held at the Pulaski ARISE office, H. Douglas Barclay Courthouse, 2 Broad St., Thursday.

ARISE (Advocacy Resources Information Services Education) is a non-profit agency whose purpose is to increase the independence and community integration of people with any type of disability through the provision of advocacy and a range of services.

The machines are able to accommodate those who may be hearing or visually impaired as well as those who aren’t able to use their hands, according to the election commissioners.

The new machine is much easier to use than the conventional machines currently in use said Jim Cronk, a peer advocate with ARISE.

“This is much easier. They are easy to use,” he said Wednesday. “It’s like anything new. It takes time to adjust to it.”

The new machines are set up to accommodate people with a variety of disabilities.

It gives the disabled voters to ensure they are casting a secret ballot, just like everyone else, said Sabine Ingerson, director of ARISE.

Voters use headphones to listen to the choices of candidates and voting instructions to ensure privacy.

“This really gives you the opportunity to cast a secret ballot,” she said.

After the votes are cast, a tally sheet is printed out one end of the machine and goes into a folder. A poll worker brings the sheet back to the front of the machine and feeds it into a reader.

Rhiannon Mulverhill of ARISE took part in one of the demonstrations.

“It was pretty easy, it promoted you right along through the entire process,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really wonderful. I will make voting much easier on a lot of people.”

“It was very easy to use, once you get used to it,” agreed Jeremy Hanlon, who is blind. “You have practice with it, but after you are familiar with it it’s as easy as pie!”

The automated instructions are clear and easy to follow, he added.

Hanlon was unable to vote using the conventional lever machines.

He would have to have a family member go with him and he would tell them which lever to pull.

“So basically, I had to trust somebody else that they were pulling the lever for the selection that I wanted,” he explained. “I honestly believe this will revolutionize voting for the disabled. Now the disable, especially the visually impaired, will be able with this machine to make their own decisions about who to vote for; it’s in private, we don’t have to trust somebody else. They can be confident that the vote that they cast was actually for the person they wanted to vote for.”

Born 25 weeks early, he has never been able to see like a normal person.

Being visually impaired hasn’t held him back.

In high school, he took part in Blind Awareness, working with elementary students in Leighton and Minetto elementary schools to teach others about what it’s like to be visually impaired.

He also was a Reading Buddy for kindergarten students.

He is still working toward his goal, to get a job in the communications field, in radio.

For more information, call the Oswego County Board of Elections at 349-8350 or 349-8351, or the Oswego ARISE office at 342-4088.

ARISE Will Host Voting Machine Demonstrations Next Week in Oswego County

Submitted article

County Aug. 26, 27 and 28. The machines are designed to be used by people with physical disabilities and will be available for registered voters at polling places in Oswego County on Primary Day, Sept. 9, and Election Day, Nov. 4.

Ballot marking devices will be demonstrated at the Fulton ARISE office, 113 Schuyler St., Suite 1, between 10:30 a.m. and noon Tuesday, Aug. 26; Oswego ARISE office, 9 Fourth Ave., Wednesday, Aug. 27, between 10:30 a.m. and noon; and Pulaski ARISE office, H. Douglas Barclay Courthouse, 2 Broad St., Thursday, Aug. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m.

For information call the Oswego County Board of Elections at 349-8350 or 349-8351, or the Oswego ARISE office at 342-4088.

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