Feds demand voting overhaul
Agency says state violating mandate to update machines
By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
First published: Wednesday, November 7, 2007
ALBANY -- In a sharply worded motion in U.S. District Court, the Department of Justice this week showed frustration with New York's failure to meet two years of deadlines for replacing lever voting machines and demanded installation of new devices regardless of whether they meet state standards.
The briefs, submitted late Monday, responded to the fractured state Board of Elections' vision to phase in new machines over the next few years. On Oct. 2, Republicans and Democrats on the board submitted separate plans, failing to meet the court's order for a blueprint on how the state will comply with the Help America Vote Act.
HAVA required states to update their systems by January 2006. DOJ notes that "with the glaring exception of New York," every other state has met HAVA's deadline. New York's failure is largely because election commissioners have been unable to find any machines that meet the state's relatively high standards.
While the state is free to impose requirements for voting systems, it can't ignore federal rules, U.S. Attorney Glenn T. Suddaby's office wrote to the court.
"The state cannot continue to operate federal elections utilizing voting systems that do not meet federal law requirements," Suddaby's motion says. "To view this scenario otherwise would allow a state to ignore with impunity HAVA's minimal federal voting systems requirements for however long it pleases, as long as it claims to be progressing toward a voting system."
The state's plan calls for a system that has stricter security and broader accessibility than the current machines. Congress has supplied almost $220 million to the state to pay for the conversion.
Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the Board of Elections, said he cannot discuss the suit. A board meeting is scheduled for today.
Bo Lipari, executive director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, which supports accessible voting, said the DOJ motion suggests the federal government wants the state to buy machines even if they aren't what lawmakers want.
The position, he said, is "mind-boggling ... that while New York state has a right to require far higher voting system standards than those set by the federal government, we have no right to demand that voting machine vendors actually meet them."
If the motion is sustained, he said, it would be a "giveaway to the voting machine vendors."
The DOJ is suing the state Board of Elections. DOJ is now trying to get it to replace voting machines by September 2008.
James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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