Commissioner says state was "stonewalled" in attempts to get information about vendor's troubles
By JAY JOCHNOWITZ, State editor
First published: Friday, January 26, 2007
ALBANY -- A co-chairman of the state Board of Elections this week accused the head of the United States Elections Assistance Commission of "stonewalling" the state's request for information on a vendor hired to help test new voting machines.
Doug Kellner, a Democratic state elections commissioner, issued a scathing letter suggesting Thomas Wilkey, executive director of the EAC and former executive director for the state Board of Elections, is helping Ciber Inc. gloss over problems with its testing operation.
But on Thursday, a day after Kellner circulated the letter, Ciber gave the state board paperwork it had been demanding on why the EAC hasn't certified it to test election machines.
"I was miffed," Kellner said. "But Ciber must have gotten the message."
The state this month was surprised to learn, in a New York Times article, that the EAC had not accredited Ciber. The firm is working for New York under a $3 million contract to test machines that will replace the lever-style devices still used in most of the state. The state needs to approve new machines before county elections boards can buy them.
Kellner said the delay means New York won't have a list of approved machines until May, at the earliest. The Jan. 1, 2006, deadline under the Help America Vote Act to replace machines has long since passed, jeopardizing $50 million in federal funds.
The state board had been trying to find out why the EAC hadn't approved Ciber as a testing lab. In his e-mail Wednesday, Kellner blasted the EAC and Ciber for the delay in providing information, calling it "truly outrageous and scandalous." In response to a formal Freedom of Information Act request, he said, Wilkey has given "lip service acknowledgment" but "has completely stonewalled us."
Wilkey's office responded that he has repeatedly said the information will be provided when the review of Ciber is complete. "We want to finish this process as soon as possible. However, we have a responsibility to conduct a thorough review of the labs that seek to test voting equipment."
Ciber, however, provided the information Thursday, Kellner said. It shows the firm was understaffed, he said, and did not properly document its testing.
The board is, however, looking at whether to hire a different firm. It is also concerned about the current timeline, which would put new election machines on line in 2008, a presidential election year when participation is high. Many elections officials would prefer to do the first run in an off-year.
Wilkey said the board is talking with the state's congressional delegation about trying to revise HAVA to give New York until 2009 to comply.
Jay Jochnowitz can be reached at 454-5424 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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