Despite the impressions received from media reports, the September 14th primary was not the first time that New Yorkers voted on paper ballots and scanners. In the 2009 off-year election, 47 counties in upstate New York used the new systems as part of a pilot program. This trial run taught participants valuable lessons, and New York City’s decision to abstain led directly to many of the problems reported there. In general, things went smoother upstate than in the City. Problem reports broke down into a few main categories:
Privacy Issues – One of the big lessons from the 2009 pilot was that voters felt that their ballots were too often exposed to public view. Some of this was inevitable – using a lever machine, surrounded on all sides by panels and curtains, the voter is in an isolation booth. Today, the small privacy booths where voters fill out their ballots are open on the back side, and if not placed correctly at the poll site (for example with the open side facing a wall) one can feel exposed. It’s very important that Boards of Elections think about layout and lines of sight within the polling place. A second frequent privacy complaint concerned carrying the paper ballot in plain view over to the scanner. This can only happen if Boards of Elections do not provide sufficient supplies of ‘privacy sleeves’ (folders which conceal the completed ballot) and adequately train poll workers in their distribution and use. Lack of privacy sleeves is an administrative failure, and is really inexcusable.