New York may fancy itself a high-tech capital, but its city elections are going old school, as state leaders have reached a deal on legislation released Wednesday that will allow the return of the vintage lever machines for this fall's citywide elections. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
It is the unlikeliest of comebacks for the old mechanical lever machines, decommissioned in 2010 to make way for electronic scanners.
The problem is that city election officials say the two-week turnaround between the primary election this September and a potential runoff is not enough time to certify results, reprogram the machines and print millions of new ballots. So on Wednesday, the state Assembly introduced a bill, agreed upon by state leaders, that delays the runoff to three weeks after the primary and allows the city to reactivate the lever machines, preserved in two Brooklyn warehouses.
Local officials and good-government groups almost universally blasted the move.
"It is going backwards," said City Councilwoman Gale Brewer.
The city board of elections said it has little choice, as Albany failed to act on its recommendation that the primary be pushed up to June. But critics say the lever machines will make a bad situation worse and warn of a false nostalgia.
"It may be satisfying to have pulled that lever, but pulling that lever was no guarantee that your vote actually was counted," said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York. "And what people aren't remembering is how often the lever machines broke down.
"I don't know how you're going to audit them," Brewer said. "I don't know if they're going to work. We don't know if they have parts."
A runoff only takes place if no candidate wins 40 percent of the vote in the primary. It's a likely prospect on the Democratic side, given the crowded field of candidates, some of whom teed off on the Board of Elections Wednesday.
"I can't believe that we can't, or that the Board of Elections can't turn this election around to get it done two weeks down the road," said Democratic mayoral candidate William Thompson. "I just think that's ridiculous."
"There has to be a better way," said Democratic mayoral candidate John Liu.
The lever machines would be used only for the primary and the runoff. The electronic scanners would come back for the general election in November. As for future elections, that's anyone's guess.