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Old Machines Cast Out

January 26, 2007
By ANN MARIE SOMMA, Courant Staff Writer

Relics of democracy for sale. Best offer. You pick up.

The machines that tallied Connecticut's votes for decades will be replaced by modern electronic machines by November's elections, and municipalities are trying to unload their old mechanical lever machines that have been gathering dust in storage.

"We don't want to keep them, but I can't find anyone who wants them. We even thought about putting them on eBay," Wethersfield Town Manager Bonnie Therrien said.

Wethersfield, which owns 34 of the old lever machines, is one of 25 towns and cities that received optical scanner voting machines last year to replace their lever machines, which weigh about 800 pounds each, are about 5 feet wide and have been in use since the 1950s.

Middletown sold all 41 of its lever machines to a local recycling company for $50, said Sandra Faraci, the town's Democratic registrar of voters.

"We were lucky to get that. I heard other towns got less," Faraci said.

Municipalities received the new voting machines from the state under the federal Help America Vote Act, which passed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The act requires states to phase out mechanical lever machines and punch-card voting systems.

Connecticut paid for the new voting machines with $32 million in federal money. By November, the state's entire inventory of 3,300 lever machines will be replaced with the new machines in all 169 municipalities.

But the state has left municipalities to find creative ways to get rid of the machines. Some have given their machines away to civic groups, schools and historical societies.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said the state had heard from an Eastern European community interested in purchasing the old machines. The offer fell through.

"Towns are making decisions at the local level as to how to dispose of them," Bysiewicz said.

South Windsor's lever machines will sit in a storage facility until the town figures out what to do with them, town officials said.

Newington sold all 30 of its old machines to a scrap metal yard in Plainville for $60. It kept four for posterity.

"We had a storage issue. We thought about donating them to countries outside of the United States that use paper ballots, but it was too expensive," said Town Manager John Salomone.

John Meehl with JM Moving and Recycling in Middletown said hauling away the machines is a tough job.

It took him six trips in his box truck to transport Middletown's lever machines to a scrap metal yard in North Haven.

He estimates the load was 20 tons. He said he got only a few hundred dollars for his effort.

"I felt a little overloaded on the first trip," Meehl said. "I could have used a little help."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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