New York Newsday.com
BY ERROL A. COCKFIELD JR
June 23, 2005
ALBANY - When voters head into polling places throughout most of the state in 2006, they will see new electronic voting machines that will replace the levered system that has been in place for more than a century.
After failing to find consensus for more than a year, the State Legislature yesterday reached an accord on a package of bills that will overhaul the electoral system throughout New York.
Lawmakers had raced to approve changes before the end of the legislative session this week because federal officials warned that $221 million in aid through the federal Help America Vote Act could be in jeopardy.
New York was the only state that had failed to comply with the act, and yesterday it became clear the federal requirement that the overhaul be in place by the 2006 elections would not be met in all counties.
Lawmakers said New York City in particular would not be able to update its system because of the large number of polling places.
"I don't think the old machines will be totally phased out, especially in New York City, because of sheer volume," said Assemb. Keith Wright (D-Harlem), chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Election Law. "It's quite possible we could have electronic machines along with levered machines."
There were also fears that local election officials would not be able to train poll workers in time for the 2006 elections, a process that can take months because it is usually overseen by volunteers.
That raised a nettlesome prospect for election officials as the state heads into a year that will feature high-profile gubernatorial, attorney general, comptroller, congressional, U.S. Senate and state legislative races.
While he was pleased lawmakers eventually took action, Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said, "They messed this up ... They kind of kicked the can down the road."
The legislation, which Gov. George Pataki said he would sign, is expected to help prevent fraud by establishing the first statewide voter database and requiring voters to provide more identification to election officials when registering.
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the new database would allow officials to flag individuals who are registered in more than one county. "That's a very big change," said Flanagan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Elections.
Pataki said he has some reservations about aspects of the five-bill package because it did not provide for enough choices of voting machines. But Pataki said it "will allow us to access the federal funds and modernize our system."
Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said the state would certify machines that local boards of election would then purchase with the federal monies.
"It's going to be a lot of work in a very short time," Daghlian said.
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.
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