ASSEMBLY TO CONSIDER HAVA BILLS
Silver, Wright Urge Senate to Join Conference Committee to Negotiate Remaining Issues for Implementing the Help America Vote Act
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Election Law Committee Chair Keith Wright announced today that the Assembly would consider during its Wednesday session (April 20) two bills to implement the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that have been agreed upon by the joint legislative HAVA conference committee and a third bill to resolve longstanding partisan governance problems at the New York State Board of Elections.
Silver and Wright called on the Senate, again, to resume HAVA negotiations through the joint legislative HAVA conference committee to resolve several critical remaining issues. They noted that the HAVA conference committee has not met for almost four weeks, despite repeated calls by the Assembly for such meetings to resume.
The bills to be considered by the Assembly tomorrow would, as required by HAVA, create a statewide voter registration list (A.6733/S.3604) and establish an administrative procedure that a voter may use to make a complaint involving the enforcement of the new federal and state HAVA requirements for efficient, accountable and modern election procedures (A.6655/S.3517).
The Board of Elections governance bill (A-6504\S-3650) would resolve longstanding partisan problems at the State Board of Elections and is the product of extensive discussions between the Senate and Assembly. Silver and Wright noted that while the Senate Majority had introduced the governance bill, they had not acted to pass it. They called upon the Senate to act on the governance bill so that the State Board had the tools necessary to rapidly implement HAVA.
“The State Board of Elections was established by law as a bi-partisan agency to ensure that no one political party could improperly use the electoral process to obtain improper partisan advantage,” said Wright. “Unfortunately, the Republican party in New York State has refused for 18 months to join with us in appointing a bi-partisan executive staff at the State Board of Elections and the agency is being run with only a Republican deputy executive director,” Wright noted. “This subverts the checks and balances necessary for the proper functioning of the electoral system and is particularly problematic because of the myriad of new responsibilities which the State Board of Elections will be receiving under HAVA,” he said.
Wright said that the governance bill would establish a new process for appointing staff and commissioners of the State Board of Elections, eliminate the current partisan gridlock which had paralyzed the agency and improve the board’s administrative structure.
Silver, the members of the HAVA conference committee and the sponsors of the three bills slated for Assembly consideration said the bill package would be an important milestone in improving New York’s electoral process.
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“These bills take important steps in continuing the Assembly Majority’s efforts to reform the election process in New York State and ensure the integrity of our voting system,” said Silver.
“Improving voter participation in the electoral process is the major aim of the Help America Vote Act, and it remains the primary concern of the Assembly Majority. This legislative package will make it easier for all New Yorkers to get involved and vote,” said RoAnn M. Destito (D-Rome), sponsor of the voter registration list bill.
“The administrative complaint procedure bill provides a much-needed process for addressing failures to ensure a new and more open and accountable election process,” said Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (D-Bronx), sponsor of the legislation. “Voters facing problems when they go to vote have gotten short shrift from the current system. Enactment of this legislation would mean we will finally be better able to protect the rights of all voters.”
“The Assembly passed a comprehensive HAVA implementation package in 2003, 2004 and again early in this legislative session,” Wright said, “yet here we are almost three years later and there is no final resolution on how to implement one of the most significant and far-reaching election system reforms in New York history. We need the conference committee to resume now.”
Wright noted that the current issues of disagreement center around which machines will be purchased to replace the lever machines, how the federal HAVA money will be distributed for the machines, disability access issues and what process will be utilized to verify a voter's identity when he or she registers to vote.
Calling it “a critical step toward securing funding to reform New York’s election process,” Wright noted the Assembly’s recent agreement with the state Senate and Gov. George Pataki on budget appropriations aimed at bringing New York State into HAVA compliance. He added this agreement requires the expenditure of HAVA funds pursuant to legislation passed by both houses and signed by the governor, as well as a vote of the bipartisan State Board of Elections.
“HAVA provides an historic opportunity to modernize our voting system and make voter registration more efficient and accurate,” said Silver. “We owe it to the voters of New York to comply with the HAVA mandate.”
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