December 30, 2005
By MIKE MASLANIK
Finger Lakes Times
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was supposed to ensure that the nation’s antiquated voting system was updated by Jan. 1, but as the deadline for compliance approaches, some say it’s legislative foot-dragging that has kept New York state from enacting the necessary reforms.
By not replacing the state’s 20,000 lever-action voting machines, made as long ago as 1930, New York state could face punitive action by the Justice Department in the form of reduced federal funding. The state also has failed to compile a statewide list of registered voters, as directed.
The Justice Department is “evaluating the status of each state” in implementing the reforms, said spokesman Eric Holland.
The Board of Elections recently met with Justice Department officials, said Lee Daghlian, director of public information, and he said it looks like the state might get a reprieve.
“We feel confident that if we show progress they won’t penalize us,” he said.
Officials in each of the state’s 62 counties can’t order new voting machines until the state Board of Elections approves a set of specifications, including structural integrity and a voter-verified paper trail.
Some area commissioners worry that they won’t have enough time to get acquainted with the new equipment before next September’s primaries.
“My concern is that we don’t have a machine in place now to start training voters and election workers,” said Wendy Gibson, Democratic election commissioner in Yates County. “I’m worried about it.”
Daghlian said that he didn’t want to sound like he was passing the buck, but slow action by the state Legislature is what put the board “behind the eightball.”
Passed by the state Senate in June, almost three years after HAVA was enacted, the Election Reform Modernization Act gave the state Board of Elections the OK to draw up a list of approved voting machines.
After months of public hearings and expert testimony, the board released a set of preliminary specifications on Dec. 7, Daghlian said, and a 45-day public comment period is under way.
When it closes, the board will revise the regulations and expects to release final specifications in April, although “nothing is set in stone,” he said.
At that point, each county’s election commissioners will decide which machine to purchase. “It’s a dramatic shift from paper ballots to computerized ballots,” said Justin McCarthy, chief of staff for Sen. Mike Nozzolio, R-54 of Fayette.
McCarthy seemed surprised yesterday to hear that it’s virtually guaranteed that the state will miss the deadline.
Assemblyman Brian Kolb, R-129 of Canandaigua, put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the majority Democrats.
“The majority Democrats kept dragging their feet and dragging their feet,” he said. “We should’ve voted on this in 2004, and now people are going to be rushing around in 2006.”
Daghlian said he hopes the machines will arrive this summer and that voter and worker training can be completed before the Sept. 12 primary.
Some commissioners are researching voting machines but expressed frustration because they don’t know what will be allowed.
“We definitely picked out a favorite, but it’s silly to do that before the state certifies it,” said Elaine Catanise, Seneca County election commissioner.
Wayne County Election Commissioner Dick Clark is having a similar problem.
“We’ve been looking at machines for six months, but they keep modifying the specs,” he said.
While the wait is frustrating, ensuring voter confidence is the most important issue, said Mary Salotti, Ontario County election commissioner.
Several voting machine manufacturers will hold a demonstration of their machines at the Dome Arena in Henrietta, on Jan 5. It will be open to the public from noon to 5.
“The most important thing is the integrity of the vote,” she said. “We don’t want a system that doesn’t allow you to reconstruct a vote.”
New York state received $119 billion in federal money through HAVA, Clark said. Each county got a portion of the money related to its number of registered voters.
New York state isn’t the only one that will miss the deadline. According to a survey by the National Association of Secretaries of State, 19 states won’t be compliant by Jan. 1. The names of the states are confidential.
Fed up with all the delays, Gibson said she’s at the end of her rope.
“In the end, we have to have a product that will instill confidence in voters,” she said. “But I have to wonder if a piece of paper and a pencil isn’t the way to go.”
Content © 2005 The Finger Lakes Times
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