Ho Hum! Again, the Chautauqua County Board of Elections with ever dwindling financial resources and less reliance on outside part-time personnel, was able to deliver its fourth consecutive successful election using the new paper ballot optical scan voting process.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in a Nov. 5, editorial said the New York State Board of Elections "must help counties with voting problems." The editorial called on the state to step in and "do a thorough review of how the voting worked in all of the state's 62 counties, and then come up with an action plan to fix the problems."
We welcome the opportunity to be ranked and know that we will be in the absolute top tier of counties!
Why has Chautauqua County succeeded in the roll-out of new voting technology, when other counties have not? An enormous amount of credit needs to be given to County Executive Greg Edwards, past County Executive Mark Thomas and the County Legislature. All supported our efforts with adequate budgeting and a confidence in the Board of Elections management and staff. Our front line election inspectors have willingly taken to the new system and were all retrained on the implementation of elections in the twenty first century.
Has all been perfect? Absolutely not. But like any professional organization, we have been constantly prepared for the problems and have had a disaster plan in place for any and every foreseen potential problem.
So what about the acceptance of the new voting technology? Partly because our county was the manufacturing home to the old lever voting machine and partly because our voters just plain liked it, our unscientific opinion is that voters preferred the old way of voting on the lever based systems. That being said, voters have accepted the new voting system. We've received only a few calls of total disgust and pronouncement from voters that they would never be voting again!
In 2009, the Chautauqua County Board of Elections heard voters loud and clear that privacy was an issue. Our 2010 response was retraining of our election inspectors to keep a distance from the voters and to respect the privacy of the ballot. Using our limited federal Help America Vote Act funds, we purchased even more ballot privacy folders for carrying the ballot, extended ballot booths to give voters extreme wrap around privacy while at the ballot scanner and we provided new table top ballot booths to allow voters the opportunity to sit down while voting. We understand that voters will never feel as secure and private as in the old days of a curtain that closed around the voter in the lever machine.
Election night reporting was a disaster throughout much of the state. We were not happy with the level of detail that our election night reporting provided as compared with our old system, but we were the absolute first and only county in New York State in 2009 to incorporate the technology of computerized voting to provide 100% accurate election results. We developed a web of runners to return data discs taken from each voting machine scanner and read into a "closed system" data collection computer at the Board of Elections in Mayville. While other counties in New York were just beginning their tabulation, Chautauqua County was done at 10:32 p.m. for the November 2, 2010 General Election. As the pioneer county in New York in 2009 for the new system election night vote tabulation, we presented at an election commissioner conference on how to make election night reporting happen. The counties that followed the Chautauqua leadership for election night reporting saw success and those that did not almost universally failed.
Chautauqua County also joined three other New York State counties (Suffolk, Westchester and Putnam) rolling out hand held computers at every county poll site with a database of the county's more than 80,000 voters, fifty four poll sites and video to coach election inspectors through any new voting machine problems.
For 2011 we have a new set of problems to overcome at the Board of Elections:
Chautauqua County has just signed a purchase order for a ballot printing machine which will reduce our ballot printing costs by 80%, but will require even more training and more of an intense labor commitment by the Election Commissioners and staff within the current budget confines. We will doing more with less and are just the third county of sixty two in New York State to undertake this most difficult job of precision ballot printing that will be readable by optical scanners.
We will begin a process of advocating at the state level election law changes for ballot design changes. Ending fusion voting where candidates' names are on multiple party lines and the votes are totaled together, would be a helpful way to end ballot clutter and would allow election boards to increase font sizes. Moving local election to the back of the ballot would also help to allow us to increase font sizes. A change in the statewide computer software to darken the ovals that voters need to fill in would ease ballot eye strain.
The Board of Elections has already ordered temporary magnifier with lights to be available for all poll sites in 2011 to ease ballot eye strain.
An expanded election night reporting results page with more detailed results is a top priority.
Integration of a scanable absentee ballot hardware system to speed up the vote tabulating process will be accomplished.
Taking the final step in the implementation of a state required inventory system to track the many seals that prevents tampering of voting systems and tracks the equipment we use at the poll sites.
The 1,000 election inspectors and alternates will receive new training on the ever changing rules and procedures for New York State.
For 2011 and beyond, the layout of the poll site and future plans to make signing in to vote simpler will likely need to wait until after reapportionment by the state, county, Jamestown and Ellicott elected leaders.
In the end, our work has never been more demanding, challenging and daunting at the Board of Elections. We do not watch in glee as some of our fellow county election commissioners across New York State are on the hot seat for failing to perform our very difficult job of election administration. Our only promise for the future is a continuation to take on more work with less resources and to make every effort to continue Chautauqua County's history as the state leader in election innovation.