MAYVILLE - Chautauqua County voters will use the new electronic voting machines this November after all.
Election officials in Mayville announced Tuesday that Chautauqua County will be among 16 counties in New York state that will make the long-anticipated switch, leaving the lever-activated machines of the past obsolete.
"We will no longer have our trusted old friend, the mechanical lever voting machine, to depend on for elections in Chautauqua County," said Brian Abram, Republican election commissioner.
Tuesday's announcement came at a time of uncertainty over when the county would start using its $1 million stockpile of Sequoia optical scanners, purchased mostly with money from the federal government.
County election officials were all set to use the electronic machines in this year's primary and general elections until SysTest, the company charged with certifying election machines around the state, was itself decertified by the federal government. That made a 2009 debut of the state's new electronic voting machines questionable, though SysTest was soon recertified and able to continue its work.
According to election officials, Chautauqua County along with 15 other counties, will be the first to use the new electronic voting machines under a pilot program while all other counties will continue to use the state's tried-and-tested lever-activated machines.
That will be the state's first step toward finally complying with the U.S. Help Americans Vote Act, which was put into effect after the tumultuous 2000 presidential election. New York state is alone in its non-compliance with the HAVA reforms.
According to Norman P. Green, Democratic election commissioner, Chautauqua County is one of only two counties in Western New York that will use the new election machines. Wyoming County will also make the switch, but neighboring Erie and Cattaraugus counties will not.
"We agreed to be a pilot county and leader in the rollout of new voting technology because we feel strongly that our county deserves this continued honor as being the leader in voting technology in New York state," Green said. "We also feel strongly that our staff is up to the task to make this implementation happen."
Timelines released earlier this year by state election officials actually had the state's electronic voting machines ready to go after the November elections, but election officials said those estimates were purposely pessimistic since so many of the state's predictions regarding HAVA compliance fell far short of their goals.
The county bought its electronic voting machines for more than $1 million, which was mostly obtained from a federal grant. The Sequoia optical scanners, which are also equipped with a device exclusively for handicapped voters, were unveiled during last November's elections, but only for handicapped voters.
In November, when numerous local and county positions will be up for grabs as well as several judgeships, voters will insert a paper ballot into the optical scanner for tabulation, according to election officials. Sequoia's ImageCast machines also have an audio component to assist disabled voters.
"Voting will be as simple as filling out a lottery ticket," Green said.