SMITHVILLE FLATS – Voters pulled its lever for the presidential elections just last year, as they have for every government election since 1934, but the oldest voting machine in Chenango County will be used no more.
Same goes for another relic that still works in this town of approximately 1,400 residents: The two-seater outhouse at the Smithville Center Grange polling site. With no modern facilities, no parking nor sidewalk, and only a pot belly stove for warmth, county elections officials – now in charge of all elections – had no trouble streamlining this town’s two polling places from two to one.
Voting districts across the United States were forced to replace their lever-operated machines with handicapped accessible ones and transfer control of elections from municipalities to counties under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. Never mind that it took New York longer than any other state and a federal lawsuit to actually certify a new machine; fear of change gripped Chenango County equally as hard.
Locally, the switchover involved three years of feet dragging, push-pulling between municipalities and the county for control, and much haggling over cost. Supervisors adamantly protested each move, from agreeing to spend $7,000 for an interim, one-time use machine, to training, storage and maintenance costs that doubled the Board of Election’s annual budget to nearly $450,000.
A chorus of complaints were lodged just last week toward election’s commissioners who were presenting their 2010 budget to the Finance Committee.