New York State School Boards Association


June 11, 2014                                          

In 2005 the state required that optical scan voting machines be used in all elections, rather than lever voting machines.  Since that time, NYSSBA has successfully advocated for an extended exemption for school district budget votes, bond propositions and school board elections.   The latest exemption expires at the end of this calendar year, meaning without a new state law, 2015 school budget votes and elections will require either the use of optical scan voting machines or a return to paper ballots, counted by hand.

Advocates for the physically challenged community have been adamant that the optical scanning machines create equal access to the polls for all people, making legislators hesitant to vote for exemptions for schools, fire districts and villages.  Yet, the fact is that the new machines are expensive to buy and even more expensive to program and audit.  They’re not easily moved and many counties have either told schools that they will not make their machines available or they will only do so at a cost that is prohibitive.  For schools that have a comparatively low voter turnout, plenty of volunteers and a simple ballot, the new machines are a costly and unnecessary burden.

Without state action, schools will be faced with poor alternatives:  Either buy the costly and unplanned for machines in the middle of the budget year or return to using paper ballots. For many districts, the prohibitive cost of the machines themselves would pierce the tax cap.  Some districts have already returned to using hand counted paper ballots, since the law says only that if you use a voting machine, it must be an optical scan machine.  The law does not require that a machine be used.  Few districts would choose to return to paper ballots however and we are once again working hard to secure an extension of the school exemption.

Currently, legislators are confused by a wide array of information and misinformation.  In some areas, counties have made their machines available.  In other areas, schools have been denied access to the machines.  Legislators need to know:

  • Schools can’t absorb the high cost of buying machines in the middle of their budget year.  This expense was unplanned for and without an extension, would require schools to cut important programs and services.

  • Schools recognize the problems with the current lever voting machines, but will be forced to return to paper balloting if no extension is passed.  No one would benefit from that approach.

  • Our schools need an extension that will allow the state to put a permanent solution in place:  Either require counties to provide their machines to schools for their elections (the counties received $40 million in federal money to buy the machines) or provide state funding to schools to buy their own.  In the meantime, our schools and taxpayers can’t afford a new unfunded mandate.


Call your Member of Assembly at (518) 455-4100 and your Senator at (518) 455-2800. 
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