the racie for gracie

Who Loves Lever Voting Machines? Not Everyone.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg emerges from a voting booth after casting his ballot November 3, 2009 at an elementary school in New York in bid to win a third term as mayor of New York City against Democratic opponent William C.Thompson, Jr.
Photo: Stan HondaSTAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images2009 AFP

Tuesday’s primary election and possible runoff will be the last time New Yorkers vote by lever, probably for good. The 800-pound machines, which have been sitting in a Brooklyn warehouse since they were last used in 2009, are making a cameo appearance, as the Board of Elections said it couldn’t collect, reprogram, and test all the electronic machines in the three weeks between the Sept. 10 primary and a possible runoff on Oct 1. That will surely thrill those who love the sound and feel of a lever clunking out their vote. But now that the machines are about to make their final official appearance, critics are getting in a few last jabs at both the machines and the Board of Elections, just in case this election turns out to be as messy as the last.

Mayor Bloomberg (as he often does) had some especially harsh words for the Board of Elections. Per the New York Times:

In his weekly radio address, 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.” He urged residents who have trouble at the polls to call 311 for help.

Inexplicable delays in reporting election results; misplaced and sometimes dramatically misreported returns; failures to open polling places on time or keep them operating efficiently: The sad litany of past Board of Elections bungles is a long one,” he said.

Bloomberg has advocated the lever machines (which were last used to vote him into office), as the best solution to the city’s scheduling quandary.

Good-government groups, suspicious of the machines’ lack of paper trail and outdated technology, have been advocating in the other direction. Back in June, Common Cause’s Sarah Lerner called the machines a “resolute march back to the 19th century in election administration” (they were first designed in the 1800s after all). And on Aug. 30, New York Public Interest Research Group’s Neal Rosenstein told the Associated Press the choice to use them “was the wrong decision.”

My own feeling is you’re going to have voters who have never voted on these levers before, you’re going to have poll workers who are poorly trained, and we’ll get machine breakdowns which will send us into a paper-ballot system. That’s the worst case,” Kate Doran, the election specialist for the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, told the Times.

The Board has maintained that deploying the old machines was the only workable solution to the timing challenge, and that they’re ready to go. Workers have lubricated them, replaced cords and light bulbs, and tested them. Now they really should hope the machines deliver, because if they don’t, there are a lot of people getting ready to say, “I told you so.”

Who Loves Lever Voting Machines? Not Everyone.