Old-Fashioned Lever Voting Machines Called Out of Retirement in New York

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
(photo: Wikipedia)

New York City decided to dust off its old, non-computerized voting machines and use them in time for Tuesday’s local elections. The move was prompted after some local leaders lost confidence with the newer, electronic voting machines that encountered troubles during the 2012 election.


The state legislature and the NYC Board of Elections authorized 5,100 lever voting machines to come out of retirement, undergo maintenance and be set up in voting precincts for the September 10 balloting.


Some politicians, like City Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, admitted to feeling “very nervous” about relying on the old machines, which were first purchased in the 1960s.


But John P. O’Grady, chief voting machine technician for the Board of Elections, expressed confidence in the old machines. “You see a lot of antique cars on the roads,” he told The New York Times. “Things back in the ’60s were made to last. These machines were made to last.”


Others, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, were very critical of the decision. The mayor derided “an elections bureaucracy rife with patronage, mismanagement, incompetence, and waste,” called the Board of Elections “notoriously dysfunctional” and said it had a “dismal track record,” according to the Times.


Government watchdog groups and civil rights organizations also expressed concerns with going back to the lever voting machines, which had been in storage for the past several years in two Brooklyn warehouses. They said newer poll workers might not be familiar with how the older technology works, and they added that the switch in machines might confuse voters.


Last year’s voting was marred by long lines outside polling places as well as delays in producing complete election results. The new $95 million electronic system using optical scanners to read paper ballots was partly blamed for the difficulties.


Officials said the decades-old equipment could be used for this week’s balloting, and any runoff elections that follow. But reports that came in yesterday did not bode well for the old mechanical workhorses. The New York Public Interest Research Group, which operated a voter help line, told the Times that of the 76 election-related complaints it received by noon time, 39 pertained to  broken lever voting machines. Most of those complaints came from Brooklyn, with Manhattan coming in second.


Needless to say, the city doesn’t plan to scrap the more expensive scanning machines anytime soon. That more modern system is expected to be back and fully operational for the November general election.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Elections Board Rings In the Old, as Lever Machines Replace Scanners (by Thomas Kaplan, New York Times)

Election 2013: Rise of the Machines (by Lawrence Downes, New York Times)

Can Voting Machines be Hacked? No Problem (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Justice Dept. Investigates Voting Machine Merger for Possible Anti-Trust Violation (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)            


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