The New York Times

March 8, 2005


New York Is Last State to Seek Money for Voting Technology




ALBANY, March 7 - Because of legislative delay, New York lags behind all other states and territories in seeking its share of $2.3 billion in federal aid to modernize voting machines and other electoral technology, according to federal officials and state watchdog groups.


New York's share amounts to $153 million. That money is supposed to be spent by 2006 to meet requirements under the federal Help America Vote Act, which include replacing the state's 20,000 mechanical-lever voting machines with touch-screen or other forms of computerized balloting.


The state has also not touched an additional $66 million that has been available since 2003 for those purposes. New York risks forfeiting at least some of that money if the huge overhaul of New York's voting system is not completed or substantially under way by a September 2006 deadline, federal officials say.


Only Alaska and New York have not taken the necessary steps to tap the $2.3 billion fund, and Alaska recently notified the United States Election Assistance Commission that it would do so shortly, commission officials said.


"With New York, it is our understanding that until the Legislature addresses the issues before it, the state cannot access the money," said Gracia M. Hillman, chairwoman of the commission. "New York has a great deal of work to do before the deadline."


Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who failed to agree on a modernization plan last year, began work on Monday toward reconciling several conflicting ideas about the shape of the new voting system.


Several of the legislators, who plan to meet at least three more times in the next two weeks, acknowledged that many details were in dispute, including the type of new machines to be used, the technology for disabled voters, and the identification alternatives for voters who are not correctly listed on the registration rolls.


On some issues, the Democratic leaders of the Assembly want to provide specific directives to shape the voting system, while the Republican Senate majority prefers leaving some details to the voting precincts and election boards. Some of the Democrats' ideas, including going to greater lengths to aid disabled voters, might add expenses.


"As everyone is aware, New York is significantly behind," said Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, a Democrat from Manhattan and a co-chairman of the conference committee that is working toward compromise.


As pressure, a coalition of New York watchdog groups held a news conference on Monday to note that the state ranked "dead last" in the nation for carrying out the Help America Vote Act, and that political delays jeopardized both federal money and the integrity of New York's voting system.


Some changes must be instituted by Jan. 1, 2006, but Ms. Hillman, of the federal commission, said New York risked losing some of the federal money if changes were not in place by the date of the next federal election primary, in September 2006.


In New York City, meanwhile, elections officials said on Monday that they have asked the state to allow them to delay putting in a new voting system by 2006, if necessary.


John Ravitz, the executive director of the city's Board of Elections, said that because of Albany's delays in releasing money from the Help America Vote Act, "it would be virtually impossible to implement such a dramatic change in a proper, orderly and efficient fashion" in time for the 2006 elections.


Mike McIntire contributed reporting for this article.


Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company




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