Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Feds seek to fast-track N.Y.'s voting-machine replacement
By Cara Matthews
Journal Albany bureau
ALBANY — The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that New York replace all its “ancient” lever voting machines by September, the latest attack on the state’s lack of compliance with federal election-modernization law.
The Justice Department said in motion filed with federal District Court that the court should consider taking away control of the machine-replacement process from the Board of Elections if it doesn’t show it can make “immediate progress.” The Help America Vote Act of 2002 required all states have to modernize their election systems and provide machines that allow people with disabilities to vote independently. New York is in last place when it comes to meeting the law’s requirements.
The Board of Elections has been lobbying for the court and Justice Department to allow New York until 2009 to fully implement HAVA. It was unclear today if or how the state would be able to comply with stepped-up demands.
Voting-rights advocates warned that forcing the state to have new equipment in place so quickly could lead to large-scale problems on primary day and Election Day next year due to a lack of time for comprehensive poll-worker training and voter education.
The Justice Department wrote in court papers the state’s plan to continue using lever machines in 2008 ignores federal legislation that mandated HAVA compliance by January 2006 and a federal court order for New York to implement HAVA by September 2007. The state, which received about $220 million in HAVA funds, has yet to certify new equipment that counties will choose from to replace their approximately 20,000 lever machines.
“The state has no one to blame but itself for the position it finds itself in today,” the Justice Department wrote in its scornful motion, adding that New York has “literally crawled toward compliance with HAVA.”
New York has struggled from the beginning. It took the Legislature until 2005 to enact companion state legislation. The Justice Department sued New York in 2006. The Board of Elections fired its testing authority earlier this year and has yet to hire a new one.
The Democrats and Republicans on the board filed separate compliance plans with the court last month because they couldn’t reach an agreement. Both called for replacing all lever machines in 2009. They disagreed on how many interim machines for the disabled should be in place next year. There are two Republican and two Democratic commissioners and a co-executive director from each party.
Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said the matter would be discussed at the board’s meeting tomorrow. The state has until Dec. 6 to reply to the Justice Department’s motion.
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