NY Daily News
Monday, November 12th 2007, 4:00 AM
Does the Justice Department want a replay of Florida's presidential voting debacle? Because that's exactly what could happen here if the department gets its way in a suit against New York's Board of Elections.
Federal lawyers are seeking a court order that would force New York to replace every one of its mechanical voting machines with electronic equipment by September 2008, a mere 10 months from now. They're even asking a federal judge to take control unless state officials make immediate progress on this complex overhaul.
The request is rash and should be rejected out of hand. The department has somehow overlooked the fact that America is in the throes of an extraordinarily hard-fought presidential race. Voter turnout could bust all records - especially if the election comes down to a clash between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Even to think about using untested machines that voters have never used before, poll workers have never seen before and technicians have never fixed before is insane.
And where is the huge constitutional injustice that cries out for radical federal intervention? There is none. The state's offense is failing to comply with the Help America Vote Act, which requires states to (a) use machines that make a paper record of each vote and (b) accommodate disabled voters at every polling location.
The state Board of Elections' failures in this regard are legion. The dysfunctional panel blew every deadline set by federal law and court order, and it remains gridlocked along party lines. Even so, the board's bungling has had a silver lining for New York. Many states that rushed to comply with HAVA deadlines wound up investing millions in ATM-style gizmos that mysteriously crash or lose track of thousands of votes on Election Day. Thanks to Albany's do-nothing tendencies, New York has avoided making the same mistake.
As for accommodating the disabled, there's no urgent need to do more. Election officials already provide machines in each borough that enable virtually anyone to read and cast ballots without help - and the demand for them has been almost nil. In September's primary, the Bronx device was used by one voter.
So the feds should keep their shirts on. The point of the HAVA law is not to cause Florida-style balloting disasters, but to avoid them. And the best way to achieve that goal to let New York stick with its tried-and-true dinosaurs for one more cycle.
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