Making all voices heard in Nassau County elections

Reforms to increase accessibility for voters


A group of officials watched, intrigued, as Kevin Greenstein, of Port Washington, demonstrated how to use an AutoMARK voter assist terminal, a machine designed for people with physical impairments to use to vote in elections. Greenstein has cerebral palsy.

Using the machine’s touch-screen monitor, Greenstein selected his favorite pizza toppings — sausage and pineapple — and printed the corresponding ballot, to be processed by a Nassau County Board of Elections employee. As his ballot was fed into the reader, Greenstein gave the crowd a thumbs-up.

The demonstration took place at United Cerebral Palsy in Bayville on Jan. 17, as part of a news conference led by State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Huntington Democrat, to kick off a public-service campaign to update local voters on the expansion of voting accessibility in New York state. The campaign comes a week after Senate Democrats passed a number of voting reforms in the state Legislature (see box), which now await Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

“We made some major changes to election law,” Gaughran said, “changes that, quite frankly, should’ve been made a long time ago. We are doing this because we want to give everybody the right to vote.”

Gaughran was joined by State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, a Glen Cove Democrat and chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Election Law, and David Gugerty, the Democratic commissioner of Nassau County’s Board of Elections. While the agency has provided AutoMARK terminals at every polling site across the county since 2010, only “several hundreds” of Nassau County voters with impaired sight, hearing, or intellectual challenges use the machines. Gugerty said the recent voting reforms could boost that number since they would enable more people to get to the polls.

“The Board of Elections is where the rubber hits the road as far as voting rights and getting elections done,” Gugerty said, “and a group that particularly has difficulty [voting] is people with impairments. We need to pull off elections for them, because their vote is just as important as anyone else’s. These reforms are long overdue.” Gugerty said the agency would look to designate UCP facilities as polling places to further expand accessibility for impaired voters.

Larry Greenstein, Kevin’s father, said the AutoMARK machines allow the population to “vote as independently as anybody else.”

“Before the ballot devices became easy to use, people would say, ‘Well, have your father fill out your ballot for you, and that’s not giving him the secret ballot,” Greenstein said, referring to his son.

Greenstein added that Kevin, as a member of the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State, had advocated in Albany when the state was eyeing a transition from using lever-operated voting machines in elections. “Kevin used to love the lever voting machines because he could use them,” he said. “He lobbied [Assembly Speaker Sheldon] Silver to allow them to be used in non-partisan elections for another three or four years.”

As an active voter, Kevin said standard ballot-marking devices take time to use. Voting via the AutoMARK, coupled with early voting, he said, “will help people like me avoid lines and crowds and vote more easily.”

Gaughran acknowledged that early-voting procedures, as well as consolidation of federal and state primaries, would require funding. “We’re going to work to make sure there’s funding there, and make sure we’re not passing this cost onto the county and the municipalities,” he said.

A statement from Cuomo’s communications director, Dani Lever, dated Jan. 17, reads, “We are committed to making voting easier and ensuring every New Yorker has an opportunity to exercise this sacred democratic right to make their voices heard. The [state] budget more than covers the cost of early voting by merging state and federal primaries to save counties $25 million and eliminating the internet tax advantage to ensure collection of sales taxes, delivering $390 million to local governments.”

“It’s a great step forward for our New Yorkers,” Kevin said of the voting reforms.