Reporter’s Notebook: Election Conference Makes NY Look Old School

On the sixth floor of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs this week, despite not enough coffee and too many pastries, election experts from across the country were buzzing about issues like on-line registration, voter education, and ways to move elections forward.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the County Clerk in Bernalillo County which includes Albuquerque, NM, shared her case-study.

There voters can go to any poll site 28 days before the election including on Election Day. Oliver said they also print ballots on demand - so there's no waste.

“I don't want to pretend that we have some magic bullet in my part of the world that you don't have going on here,” said Oliver. But what they do have, she said, is a “convenient system” that voters really like.

That might not be magic, but it’s a whole lot different than what happens in New York. Here, the City Board of Elections has been sounding the alarm for months.

They say the current machines -- those not so new optical scanners -- can't handle a run-off election within two weeks of a primary. Since lawmakers wouldn’t move the primary date, the City Board is now pushing a bill that would bring back to the old lever machines for the upcoming municipal elections.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month and the issue is still being discussed by the Speaker’s office, according to Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland.

But tell that to an election's administrator from across the country.

“As a West Coaster, I do find that pretty shocking,” said Dean Logan, registrar-recorder/county clerk from Los Angeles County, who came to the Columbia event to talk about California's new online voter registration system.

He said the lever machines raise real concerns because there’s no backup if they breakdown. "They don't provide the accountability through a backup that can be looked at through a recount or an audit.”

Altogether, the event's emphasis on “consumer satisfaction,” is what stood out most to Susan Lerner, head of Common Cause and the event’s organizer. "Making sure that voters are able to vote and that their votes will be accurately counted, which is not something we hear in New York.”