Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Editorial

February 5, 2007


Machine politics


The voting machine mess goes far beyond New York's delay


Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist, in deciding last week to reverse field on new voting machines and go with a paper-trail system, made it sound as if the state would pick up the cost of this costly change of heart.


Don't count on it. There was $3 billion in the federal hopper allotted under the Help America Vote Act, and some in Congress are talking about spending more to help states ensure that their systems have paper trails.


Florida, New Mexico and Maryland, which has already junked its paperless system, and other states are more than likely to try to recover from Congress money spent to fix mistakes they made using, in part, federal dollars.


Does this matter to New York? You bet. Our state is under the gun from the federal government for missing HAVA deadlines, and millions are on the line.


The initial delays were egregious, to be sure; New York was the last state in the union to get its voting-machine-upgrade plan to the federal government, as HAVA required.


The process bogged down in the way most things bog down in Albany: through inertia, political squabbling and the failure of leadership to exhibit leadership.


But why should New York face a major penalty for lateness when Florida did better with the deadlines but in effect wasted public funds on machines the governor now, presumably, would like to transform into scrap metal?


There should be some consequences for missing the HAVA deadlines. But they should be fairly enforced.


After all, New York has been tardy, but the greater drain on the public purse came from those states that didn't see the inadequacies of the voting system they chose.


Beyond the penalty issue, New York is back at square one in getting authorized machines to the counties, not because it is poking along but because the machine tester it hired isn't up to the task.


If the state pushes the process, there might be new machines either touch-screen or optical scanners, both having paper trails in place by 2008. But why push it at this point? That's why Florida is in its fix. Get it right, and aim for 2009. There have already been too many expensive mistakes.


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