ELIZABETHTOWN - Fewer Essex County residents voted in last week's midterm elections than in 2006 and officials are blaming the new ballot counting machines for the lower turnout.
Essex County Chairman Randy Douglas said he has discussed the new electronic ballot counting machines with numerous residents and found elderly voters are especially uncomfortable with the new technology.
"They're scared of the new machines," he said. "I think we have to get the message out there, somehow, that it is rather easy to vote."
Senior citizens are typically some of the most reliable voters.
In 2006, 13,906 Essex County voters went to the polls. That number plummeted last Tuesday to just 12,423. In Douglas' hometown of Jay, only 841 people cast a ballot last week, down from more than 1,200 in 2006.
This year was the first time many counties in the North Country began using the new machines, as mandated under the Help America Vote Act of 2002.
Essex County Board of Elections officials had undertaken some senior citizen outreach efforts meant to familiarize them with the new machines. But, with tight budgets and lacking a means of transporting the expensive equipment, the outreach initiative wasn't as far-reaching as officials would have liked.
County Republican Commissioner Derinda Sherman said officials will continue to work to familiarize the region's seniors with the new machines.
Many local governments have been wary of the new ballot counting machines primarily because of cost concerns. They also gripe about the increased time it takes to get the unofficial results reported and posted on the Internet.
Federal officials counter that in 2000, about 2 million ballots were disqualified nationally because of problems with the lever technology.