The New York Times Company
By MICHAEL COOPER
Published: May 17, 2006
ALBANY, May 16 — New York City would provide voting machines that are accessible to the disabled at five locations in the city this fall as part of the state's plan for settling a federal lawsuit for failing to modernize its voting system.
The proposal falls far short of a goal of the federal Help America Vote Act — to have a voting system accessible to the disabled at each polling place in the state — but city and state officials say it is the best they can do with fall elections approaching.
The state was sued in March by the Department of Justice, which said that New York had fallen behind the rest of the nation in putting the Help America Vote Act into effect. The measure called on the states to overhaul their election systems.
But with the September primaries approaching fast, city and state officials said that there was not enough time to replace all the voting machines in the state without causing chaos in the elections. So late last month the state offered — and the Justice Department reluctantly agreed to support — a vastly scaled-back stopgap measure.
That measure allows the state and its counties to determine how many handicapped-accessible voting systems to put in place. Most counties asked to have only one machine put in place. New York City is planning to have accessible machines put at one site in each borough. The proposal is now being considered by a federal judge here.
State Senator John J. Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said on Tuesday that the interim plan provided too few accessible polling places, and questioned why voters who use wheelchairs should have to travel long distances to use accessible machines. He proposed that the state quickly provide $10 million to counties so they can buy more accessible machines.
But the counties say that it is not just the money, but the lack of time that they have to buy new machines, test them and train workers in their use. And they note that delays at the state level were mainly responsible for their predicament.
John Ravitz, the executive director of the city's Board of Elections, said the city would do the best it could in the short amount of time it had. "This whole interim response is part of a dysfunctional process that has been laid at our doorstep," he said.
At the Board of Elections office in each of the five boroughs, the city will have two to five ballot-marking devices, and experts will be standing by to deal with any problems that arise, he said. Disabled voters will continue to have the option of voting with absentee ballots, or with assistance at polling places.
The handicapped-accessible machines would allow voters to bypass traditional lever machines. The ballot-marking devices could include machines that use audio, for blind voters, or machines that use a technology that allows quadriplegic voters to sip and puff into a machine that can read such signals to mark ballots.
The Justice Department said in court papers that it reluctantly supported the interim plan — but added that the state could still be liable to lose some or all of the $221 million of federal money it has received to overhaul its election system.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company