New high-tech handicap-accessible voting machines will be available in city polling stations for Elecion Day. And by next autumn’s mayoral election, the antiquated hand-cranked lever machines most voters are set to be replaced by computerized models, officials say.

At least one new machine will be available in each of the city’s 1,369 polling places on Election Day. Any voter can request to vote using the machines’ ATM-like touch screens.

The new machines boast Braille buttons and audio cues for blind voters, a foot pedal for those without use of their arms, and a mouthpiece quadriplegics can use to make selections by sipping and puffing air. The city’s Board of Elections spent $23 million on 1,800 of the machines.

Goal is Independence

“It’s an opportunity to give a voter the opportunity to mark their ballot free and independent of any assistance and regardless of any physical disabilities they may have,” said Juan Carlos Polanco, a commissioner of the city Board of Elections. “We’re very excited about the machines.”

New York State is the last state to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in response to the contested 2000 presidential election, The act provides funds for states to modernize voting machines.

New York’s slow response to the law prompted a 2006 lawsuit from the United States Department of Justice. In December 2007, the state promised a federal judge to have the disabled-accessible machines in place this autumn – and modernized machines for everyone by next autumn.

The lever machines, in use since the 1940s, break down frequently. And they don’t leave a paper trail, as required by HAVA.

The city’s new machines come from a Nebraska-based company called Election Systems and Software. But the state has not decided which machines it will authorize to replace the lever machines – leaving it unclear whether the city will be ordering thousands more machines from Election Systems and Software, or will be forced to select a different model and company for next autumn.

Early Bumps

Some states – including California, Ohio and Florida – that rushed into buying new voting machine faced computer crashes and freezes, and fears the machines could be hacked into. Fleets of expensive new machines had to be abandoned.

New York State is sitting on $27 million in unspent HAVA funds for new equipment. Whatever the future brings, the city will hold on to its more than 7,000 lever machines, and their full-time team of 25 technicians.

“These machines are our fail-safe machines,” said city election board spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez of the lever machines. “A blackout, you don’t have to worry about anything. These machines, you pull a lever and those ballots are counted. “