December 15, 2007


N.Y. balks at federal voting demands

Attorney general says timeline is 'unrealistic.'


By Cara Matthews

Star-Gazette Albany Bureau


ALBANY -- U.S. Justice Department demands that New York replace its 20,000 lever voting machines by November to comply with a voting-modernization law could create chaos at the polls in a presidential election year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in court papers Friday.


"Indeed, an unrealistic implementation schedule, unstrained by practical considerations, merely heightens the risk that the uncertainties which plagued the 2000 presidential election and led Congress to enact HAVA (the Help America Vote Act) would re-occur in the thousands of precincts across New York," Cuomo said in a response to a motion filed by the Justice Department last month.


New York is behind every other state in putting the 5-year-old federal law in place. HAVA's purpose is to modernize election systems and enable disabled voters to cast ballots without assistance. State elections officials now want until 2009. In the latest chapter of a lawsuit the federal government filed last year to push the state forward, the Justice Department is seeking to compel New York to fast-track its plans.


The state is "fully committed to implementing HAVA (the Help America Vote Act) as soon as practically possible and also ensuring that every voter can vote and that every vote is counted," Peter Kosinski, co-executive director of the state Board of Elections, said in an affidavit.


"To demand more than that, as the United States does, compromises New York's ability to conduct an orderly and fair election," he wrote.


A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the issue Friday.


The Board of Elections is asking that the court:


•Recognize that it is moving as expeditiously as it can but "its efforts have been hindered by circumstances beyond its control," Cuomo said. Examples include the state's not passing a law to implement HAVA until 2005; problems with a testing and certification contractor, which the board fired; and a government delay in developing federal standards for machines.


The board disputes the Justice Department's claim last month that "the state has no one to blame but itself for the position it finds itself in today."


•Include county boards of election as defendants in the lawsuit because they will be choosing and installing thousands of voting systems.


Norman Green, president of the New York State Election Commissioners' Association, said the group would welcome the opportunity to be part of the case.


"Everything that takes place with the rollout of new voting technologies is up to the county boards, and the county boards haven't been part of the federal court solution," said Green, an elections commissioner in Chautauqua County.


The association is filing a friend-of-the-court letter next week, said Green. The next appearance in the case is Thursday.


New York, which has more than 11 million registered voters, received about $220 million in federal money to implement HAVA and replace its 20,000 lever voting machines. It missed the January 2006 deadline to have new voting equipment. It received an extension until this September, but it didn't meet that benchmark either.


New Yorkers for Verified Voting, the League of Women Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group and Citizen Action filed a friend-of-the-court brief Thursday, seeking to have judge consider their views in the case. If New York is forced to speed up its timeline, that could compromise the goals of HAVA -- to ensure the right of everyone to vote easily and accessibly and have that vote counted.


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