Gridlock risks $219M in voting-reform funds




May 5, 2005


ALBANY -- State lawmakers resuscitated the debate for voting reform yesterday, faced with a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to spend $219 million in federal funds to implement the measures before the 2006 elections.


Meeting for the first time in six weeks, the bipartisan Election Law Committee charged with proposing reforms that could include 25,000 new voting machines and relaxed standards of personal identification at the polls is still at odds over how to implement the measures.


Though the deadline is a year away, it could take at least that long for any bills that come out of the committee to be voted into law and, therefore, the state must act fast.


"This is not a boy crying wolf," said Assemb. Keith Wright (D-Harlem), the committee's co-chairman, referring to the possibility that the federal funds granted under the Help America Vote Act could be lost because of the gridlock.


Wright said he continues to push for legislation that would be as inclusive as possible to all voters and that Republicans are resisting because "they think they will suffer some losses at the polls." But Republican members of the committee say Wright is trying to expand strict Help America Vote Act guidelines on issues such as voter identification in a way that could lead to fraudulent votes.


"What we're trying to do is protect the integrity of people who are actually eligible to vote," said state Sen. John Flanagan, an East Northport Republican who is the other co-chairman of the committee.


Washington set aside the $219 million for New York after the act was approved in 2002 in response to irregularities in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. In February, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2006, called the failure of the legislature to enact the improvements "an embarrassment."


Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, attended the committee meeting yesterday and said she was hopeful the parties would set aside their differences for the good of voters. County election boards await the new machines and would benefit from the other improvements, she said.


"They risk the wrath of the voters and the counties if they do not come to a conclusion on this," Bartoletti said.


Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.



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