State Board of Elections looking to buy devices for disabled voters
By ELIZABETH BENJAMIN, Capitol bureau
Friday, March 10, 2006
ALBANY -- The state Board of Elections is looking to buy 10,000 devices to help people with disabilities vote even as the U.S. Justice Department is suing the board for failing to comply with a federal law's requirements on disabled voters.
The board posted an "invitation for bids" on the state Office of General Services Web site, seeking "ballot marking or other voting devices accessible to individuals with disabilities."
The devices, according to the posting, would go into each local polling place to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
"The devices need to be delivered, tested and ready for operation as well as having personnel trained in the use of these machines prior to the primary elections in September 2006," the posting states.
State Board of Elections spokesman Lee Daghlian said this is part of a "Plan B" the state was contemplating in lieu of full compliance with HAVA, which requires all of New York's roughly 20,000 lever voting machines to be replaced by electronic machines that allow disabled people to vote independently.
The board had been discussing this plan with Justice Department officials before the department sued the state earlier this month for failing to comply with HAVA, Daghlian said. The board decided to go ahead, despite the lawsuit.
"In negotiations with Justice, they agreed that this would be a way to go that would be part of a consent agreement," Daghlian said. "If we want to get it done, we have to take this step now."
The first court date in the HAVA case is Tuesday.
"We're assuming the judge is going to ask us: What are you going to do to be in compliance with HAVA?" Daghlian said. "I don't know what else he could tell us to do that we could get done in time."
Among the options the state is considering is a device that helps disabled voters mark a paper ballot but does not actually count the votes, and a phone system they could use to cast votes.
Bo Lipari, director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting, said his group prefers a ballot marking device to a phone system, arguing it would be more widely accessible and have fewer security risks. Overall, Lipari said, his group favors a "Plan B," fearing that a rushed overhaul of the voting system will lead to chaos at the polls.
"Plan B with a ballot marker is a good option," Lipari said. "It's relatively simple; it doesn't count votes at all, so it would be simpler to test and get up and running."
Elizabeth Benjamin can be reached at 454-5081 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2006, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.
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