Stop dawdling on federal election aid


March 13, 2005


The machinery of the State Legislature is even more clunky and outmoded than New York's lever-operated voting machines. These antiques are in danger of becoming as dysfunctional as the legislature that has failed to tap the federal dollars to replace them. That failure is way beyond unacceptable.


To avoid a repeat of the 2000 election debacle, in 2002 Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). It dangled billions of dollars in front of the states for a variety of uses, including the purchase of new voting machines. But to get the money, the states had to pass implementing legislation. Last year, Albany cobbled together a weak compromise that could only loosely be called compliance. It expires soon.


Meanwhile, the state can't even put its hands on $66 million that's already here in escrow. Its intended uses include development of a state voter database. That would help voters to cast ballots even if something goes wrong at the polling place, and it would help keep people from being improperly purged from the voter rolls. To get it, the state must set up a small state matching fund and an administrative complaint procedure. Every other state has done it. Why hasn't New York?


The state can also get $153 million for new voting machines, but that also depends on legislative action. Both houses have passed HAVA implementation bills, but they differ in significant ways. A conference committee began meeting this past week, but it has a lot of work left to do in a short time.


The senate wants to leave too many of the details up to the dysfunctional state Board of Elections. The assembly wants to spell them all out. We support the assembly's approach. Someone has to be accountable, and members of the legislature have to face the voters if they mess up. The board does not.


The optimum solution would be to use the same kind of technology statewide, rather than a patchwork of different machines. The League of Women Voters endorses optical scanners over touch-screen computers. But whatever technology is chosen, the legislation must set clear standards for the voting machines, including a voter-verifiable paper trail (both houses agree), and accessibility for voters with disabilities.


The conference committee, with Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) as co-chairman, must reach agreement very, very soon. The new system must be in place for the 2006 elections, and the clock is ticking.


Meanwhile, at the federal level, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and others are sponsoring the Count Every Vote Act of 2005. It's a logical next step after HAVA and the best vehicle for correcting the widest possible array of election problems, such as the shortage of voting machines that caused long lines in too many districts last year. Its name accurately describes what it would do, and we strongly support its passage.


Copyright 2005, Newsday, Inc.



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