City gets new voting technology

Published 8:12 pm Monday, November 2, 2009

Many Suffolk voters will notice a change when they visit the polls on Tuesday.

This year, there will be no more thick poll books with long lists of names of registered voters. Taking their place will be notebook computers with software that contains a database of the city’s registered voters.

The change is intended to speed up the process of checking voters in, while protecting the security of the voting process, according to Suffolk Electoral Board Chairman David Sylvia.

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“We do everything we can possibly do to make sure everything is secure,” he said Friday.

In a locked and alarmed room in downtown Suffolk, election officials store all of the equipment needed to hold elections in the city. Dozens of laptops sit on long tables there, and dozens of AVC Advantage voting machines bought in 1998 are lined up on the floor and along the walls, waiting to be moved to voting precincts throughout the city for Tuesday’s election.

The voting machines — which record votes on removable solid-state cartridges that are collected and stored in sealed envelopes after each election — are the last of their kind that can be used in Suffolk, Sylvia said. They can be repaired, but when they need to be replaced, the city will be forced to buy optical-scanning, paper-based voting machines.

Sylvia considers that prospect a step backwards, believing that it’s easier to tamper with elections carried out on paper than electronically.

The AVC Advantage machines have been compromised by technicians in test situations, he said, but they were forced to take a machine to a lab and work on it for two weeks to do so, he said.

On the other hand, the move to laptops from the old poll books is something he seems excited about.

“It’s a lot quicker and a lot more efficient,” he said while showing off the software.

A voter with a barcoded driver’s license, for example, will be able to hand his license to a poll official, who can scan the ID and immediately locate the voter’s registration information, printing out a copy for the voter to have to prove he voted.

The software can tell whether a voter has already cast a ballot for a particular election, can alert officials if there are any problems — such as voters in the wrong precinct — and can provide extensive reports at the end of Election Day.

All of the information is saved to a thumb drive, rather than the laptop, and the thumb drives will be returned to the Voter Registrar’s office at the end of the day on Tuesday.

Half of Suffolk’s voting precincts used the laptop systems during last year’s elections. Money became available after that election to purchase the other units, he said.

Election officials were to receive training on how to use the units this weekend.