Monday, February 1, 2010

County Government Committee of Columbia County Supports Joining Litigation

After a January 26th report on the state's required switch to optical scanners, presented by Columbia County Election Commissioners Virginia Martin and Jason Nastke, Supervisors on the Columbia County Government Committee agreed that the county should support litigation to have ERMA declared unconstitutional.

As reported by Francesca Olsen of the Register-Star:

  • Democratic Commissioner of Elections Virginia Martin and Republican Commissioner Jason Nastke presented documentation on the State’s required impending switch to optical scanners and ballot marking devices at the January County Government Committee meeting Jan. 26.

    Martin said that several counties, including Nassau County in Long Island, are interested in joining proposed litigation to declare the state Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005 (ERMA) unconstitutional. Supervisors on the committee were in general agreement that Columbia County’s involvement in the litigation was the right move.

    All counties in New York are expected to use optical scanners for the 2010 primary and general elections. Nastke told the committee that just to print the paper ballots from BMDs — ballot marking devices — and optical scanners, it would cost the county $100,000 per year. “The county could put that towards a bridge!” he said. “There’s nothing for us to lose by joining in this lawsuit.”

    “Election administration gets a lot more complicated, and there are a lot more opportunities for errors,” Martin told the committee about the switch from lever machines to BMDs and optical scanners. For example, the paper ballots the new machines use (and the machines themselves) can take up a lot of space, and must be stored securely year-round with “fort-knox style security, bipartisan locks, environmental controls,” according to materials handed out by Martin at the committee meeting.

    It was suggested that if the lawsuit just delays the implementation of ERMA, it would save taxpayers the cost of new machine implementation for a little longer. “I’m not too thrilled with these scanning systems,” Nastke said, “but I’m required by law to implement them.”

    Optical scanners were certified by the State Board of Elections in December, and ERMA would require the discontinuing of lever machines. “There’s a difference with what the federal government asked, and what the state wants us to do,” said Supervisor Leo Pulcher, R-Stockport.

    The Help America Vote Act of 2002 does not require states to replace their lever voting machines.