Lawmakers In Albany Struggle To Come Up With Voting Reform Plan

April 22, 2005


New York stands to lose millions of dollars in federal aid if state legislators don't come up with a voting reform plan soon. NY1 Reporter Kristi Berner has more.


New York is the only state in the nation that doesn't have a plan to modernize voting procedures. But it's no surprise old-style politics is keeping state lawmakers from reaching an agreement, even with $$200 million in federal funding in jeopardy.


"They're arguing in Albany about what kind of machine or system will replace what we have right now, how they'll divide up the money, in terms of how many machines will go to New York City as opposed to other parts of the state," says Neal Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group.


The federal Help America Vote Act, or HAVA, was passed in response to Florida's bungling of the 2000 presidential election.


The act requires states to modernize voting machines and to create state-wide voter databases, among other things.


New York lawmakers finally passed bills to satisfy some of the requirements this week. But the major issues are unresolved, like how to replace the state's 20,000 voting machines. Lawmakers are debating, who should control the selection, whether the same machine should be used everywhere, or whether individual counties should choose their own machines, and how the machines should meet requirements for disabled voters.


With millions of dollars in state contracts on the line, lobbyists for voting machine companies are converging on Albany.


"Their mouths are salivating over coming into the New York market," says Rosenstein. "And unfortunately, we may end up with a machine that has the best lobbyists, not the best machine."


The other main sticking point between Republicans in the senate and Democrats in the Assembly is how first time voters will identify themselves at the polls. The head of the Assembly Election Committee says the federal guidelines don't provide enough options. The main ID requirement is a driver's license, which many city residents don't have.


"We want to be inclusive in terms of language, in terms of identification, who can vote, what those persons will need, whether it's a MetroCard with your picture on it or a public housing lease," says Assemblyman Keith Wright.


But a spokesman for the Senate Election Committee chairman says identification requirements haven't been an issue in past elections.


"We don't want to dilute people's votes by fake or illegal votes," said Peter Mooney.


A spokesman for the city's board of elections says they're concerned that if a decision on voting machines isn't made soon, they won't have enough time to properly train poll workers, or voters, on to use the machines.


Kristi Berner


Copyright 2005 NY1 News. All rights reserved.



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