Election policy advocates and good-government groups want the Legislature to change state law to mandate paper ballots be made available to New York voters as more counties plan to transition to touch-screen voting machines the state Board of Elections certified last year.

After nearly 14 years, New York's voting machines need an update — and it's raising questions about how a possible switch to all touch-screen voting in New York elections will impact election security after news reports both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island will spend millions of dollars to purchase the touch-screen ballot devices next year.

As the technology emerges across several U.S. states, advocates say New York lawmakers must take action to protect voters' ability to have a choice in how they cast their ballot.

"They will radically change the way that we vote and they have some very serious negative repercussions," said Lulu Friesdat, executive director of SMART Legislation, the activist arm of the nonprofit SMART Elections.

Last August, the state board of Elections certified the interactive touch screen voting machine, the ExpressVote XL — produced and sold by the company Election Systems & Software. 

Company representatives on Thursday said the interactive voting machine ensures voters submit complete ballots and makes it easier for people with disabilities and the elderly to vote.

But Friesdat argues the machines will be catastrophic to New York elections and cost counties millions of dollars.

Critics of the ExpressVote XL machines are concerned about the machine's track record of programming errors and miscounting votes after reports votes were miscounted in elections that used the devices in Monmouth County, New Jersey and Northhampton County, Pennsylvania.

Election Systems & Software officials Thursday said those issues stemmed from human error, and should have been caught by local election officials during the required audit of the final count.

ES&S said the company supports the use of paper ballots in elections.

Critics are also concerned the machines will contribute to excessively long voting lines, which could reduce voter participation.

"In states where they use all touch-screen voting like in Texas and Georgia, they have had lines seven hours long to vote, 10 hours long to vote," Friesdat said. "What's great about pen and paper is that many, many people can all fill out their ballots at the same time."

The state Board of Elections has certified two touch-screen voting machines to date, but counties are not required to purchase them. Erie, Monroe and Orange counties have purchased ExpressVote XL machines, showing intent to transition away from paper ballots.

After a voter has finished making selections on the 32-inch touchscreen, the XL prints out a ballot summary card, which is submitted and counted. 

Friesdat said the bar code prevents voters from seeing who their vote is being counted for before submitting their ballot.

New York paper ballots currently have a barcode around the edges that the machine reads, and ES&S staff argue the barcode generated by the touch screen isn't any different and undergoes the same tests and scrutiny by election officials.

"Voters are always asking themselves, 'How do I know that my ballot was tabulated correctly?'" Election Systems & Software senior sales engineer Kevin Kerrigan said. "You know because your county election office performed pre-election testing on the machines to verify was working correctly."

Before session ends June 6, organizations focused on election law and good-government groups are pushing for a bill to clear the Legislature to prevent the machines like the XL from replacing hand-marked paper ballots.

The bill, named the Voting Integrity and Verification Act, would ensure voters can always vote using pen and paper if their polling place offers touch-screen devices. It would also prevent votes from being encoded with a bar code on the ballot. 

Susan Lerner, executive director with Common Cause New York, says the legislation would protect the voting rights New Yorkers have now.

"Although it seems counter-intuitive, actually, the most advanced and secure way to vote is for voters to be able to mark paper," Lerner said.

About 7.2 million of New York’s 12 million voters use a form of ES&S election products to date, according to the company. More than 132,500 ExpressVote devices are in use across the U.S., and the ExpressVote XL was federally certified in 2016.