Feds warn state over vote systems


New York threatened with lawsuit for failing to meet deadlines for new standards


By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau

Albany Times Union

January 13, 2006


ALBANY -- Advocates for optical scanning voting machines say their arguments in favor of paper ballots got a boost when the Justice Department threatened to sue the state for failing to meet deadlines for new voting system standards.


Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, and Aimee Allaud, of the League of Women Voters, said the Department of Justice could pull federal funds from New York meant for equipment purchases. The state, which is supposed to receive about $200 million to meet Help America Vote Act requirements, should focus on purchasing optical scan machines, which are not only more reliable, but cheaper, the advocates said Thursday.


They estimate that optical scan machines, which read paper ballots, would save New York $100 million because the technology is cheaper than touch-screen electronic machines known as DREs. DRE manufacturers say their machines also can meet the objectives of the Help America Vote Act and that the cost analysis is not conclusive.


The state Board of Elections, which must certify machines that counties can then purchase, was scolded in a letter this week from the Justice Department. Assistant Attorney General Wan J. Kim wrote to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the Board of Elections, saying a lawsuit is authorized against the state for missing Jan. 1 deadlines. Kim said the department seeks an out-of-court resolution.


New York is the further behind than any other state in creating a computerized statewide voter registration list or setting up voting systems standards.


Eric Holland, a Justice Department spokesman, would not say if New York is the only state to get a letter threatening suit or if the state could lose funding.


State Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said the board doesn't view the letter from Kim as a threat to funding. He rejected the idea that the less-expensive machines are even more attractive given the potential loss of federal HAVA money.


"The conclusion I draw is that we're not meeting deadlines and that the Justice Department wants to sit down with us to see if we can get the job done," he said.


The board, he said, hopes to certify optical scan machines as well as DREs.


He said Kim's letter is comparable to notices from the federal government in the past when the board failed to meet deadlines for the National Voter Registration Act, known as the motor voter law. The state was not penalized, but simply notified of its non-compliance.


James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or by e-mail at


All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2006, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.



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