Delay voting machine shift

New York shouldn't scramble to adopt untried system before 2008 election


January 3, 2007


It's now clear that the New York State Board of Elections will not be able to finish the process of certifying new voting systems soon enough to let local boards choose wisely among them, train poll workers and get it all up and running before this September's primary election. So it's time for the state board to prepare to ask a federal court for a postponement of the deadline.


This mess began with the chaotic 2000 presidential election. Congress reacted by passing the Help America Vote Act of 2002, offering states billions of dollars for new voting systems. But implementing the act has been troublesome.


First, the body that the statute created to guide the states, the Election Assistance Commission, didn't get going until early 2004. Then the State Legislature took a long time to agree on implementing legislation. The state was so late, in fact, that the Department of Justice decided to sue.


In the compliance plan that became the basis for settlement of the suit, New York agreed to provide a limited number of ballot-marking devices to help voters with handicaps in 2006. It also agreed to replace lever machines in time for the 2007 elections. But the state board has struggled mightily with the process of testing systems and certifying them so local boards can choose. Among other problems, vendors have been changing the software of their systems on the fly, as testing proceeds.


In court, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is trying to get a state judge to say that the new state law allows counties to keep lever machines. Even if Suffolk got its way in state court, the federal suit would remain. Now Nassau County, asking to intervene in the federal case, has explained the step-by-step, time-pressure reasons for delay.


In other states, new systems produced some scary results. In Florida's 13th Congressional District, electronic machines did not record 18,000 votes. In Ohio, Cuyahoga County spent $17 million on touch-screen machines and $14 million to run the Nov. 7 election, but some in the county see reason to scrap those machines and use the optical scan system.


If New York can't do it in 2007, it would be madness to use a new system for the first time in the presidential primary of March 2008. New Yorkers for Verified Voting says the state board should ask the federal court to delay the new systems until 2009. That makes sense. New York must not be rushed into buying machines that may not work.


Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.