BY FRANK LOMBARDI
DAILY NEWS CITY HALL BUREAU
July 6, 2005
Erma is kicking up a fuss at City Hall.
No, ERMA's not some femme fatale involved in municipal hanky-panky. ERMA is the acronym for the very unsexy-sounding Election Reform Modernization Act.
The state measure - passed by the New York State Legislature June 23 and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Pataki - spells out how the state's counties, including the five that constitute New York City, must modernize their antiquated voting machines.
The impact of ERMA on the city's 4.5 million registered voters will be dramatic, and expensive, according to a new report issued last week by Mayor Bloomberg's election modernization task force.
"This project is far more complex than any other the board [of Elections of New York City] has ever faced," said the mayoral task force, an advisory panel created after last year's much criticized general election.
"Indeed, the board has not replaced its voting machines in more than 40 years," the report underscored.
Currently, the city has about 7,600 lever-operated machines that were built more than 40 years ago. Replacing them with modern electronic voting systems could cost well over $100million, by some estimates.
Under ERMA's dictates - and those of its underlying federal law, the 2002 Help America Vote Act - the changeover to modern machines must begin by the 2006 primary and be fully completed by the 2007 elections.
The city could receive as much as $72 million in federal aid to replace its antiquated machines, but may still need to spend some city funds as well.
The many and complex decisions for that "monumental" changeover must all be made by the city's Board of Elections virtually immediately, according to the task force report, which suggests the board may not be up to the task.
While the board has made some improvements since November, "in many other areas the board has moved far too slowly to address its problems and has not sufficiently sought outside assistance," the task force report contends.
John Ravitz, the executive director of the city's Board of Elections, insisted yesterday that the board's planning is well underway and that it intends to hire a consultant to help with the conversion by September.
"There's no fire that needs to be lit," he said. "We've been saying there's a sense of urgency all along."
Ravitz said the board's planning was handicapped by the state's two-year delay in enacting ERMA. And the state has yet to "certify" a menu of usable voting machines, he added.
The individual county and city boards cannot select the machine they want to use until the state's certification process is completed, he stressed.
Originally published on July 6, 2005
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