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Department of Justice Threatens To Sue New York State PDF Print Email
By Warren Stewart, Director of Legilative Issues and Policy, VoteTrustUSA   
January 12, 2006
Election Reform Groups See Action As Another Strong Argument In Favor of Paper Ballot Optical Scan

In a letter [Download PDF] to the New York State Attorney General and the State Board of Elections, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has threatened to sue the state for its failure to comply with the January 1, 2006 deadlines of the Help America Vote Act. According to a New York Times article, "New York is behind all other states and territories in deciding how to spend its share of $2.3 billion in federal aid to modernize voting machines and other elections technology." The state has received $220 million for machine upgrades and training but has yet to formulate a plan for how that money will be spent.  

The DoJ's action raises many questions and has ramifications for other states that are not yet in compliance with HAVA. According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Association of Secreatries of States released in December, as many as a third of the states failed to meet the January 1, 2006 deadlines. However, all those states are ahead of New York in implementation. There has been speculation that the DoJ action is politically motivated but it is clear that New York is unlikely to have HAVA compliant voting technology in place in time for elections this year and their voter registration database is still in the early planning stages.

The letter, signed by Wan J. Kim, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, was scathing in stating that  "it is clear that New York is not close to approaching full HAVA compliance and, in our view, is further behind in that regard than any other state in the country."  New York only adopted a state HAVA plan as required by the federal law last summer, long after many states were already well underway in implementing the voting system upgrades and statewide voter databases required for compliance.

State officials do not dispute the DoJ's assessment of New York's progress toward compliance. The Times article quoted Lee K. Daghlian, a spokesman for the state's Board of Elections, who confirmed that the board received the Justice Department letter on Tuesday. "We don't dispute that we're not in compliance," he said, adding that the state had been in contact with the Justice Department. "What we've given them is what we're doing, and what kind of process we're making. And we're quite behind."

Election reform groups opposed to electronic touchscreen voting systems (DREs) released a statement noting that the DoJ action makes the case for adopting optical scanners/ballot marking devices (PBOS) more compelling than ever.

“By moving quickly to certify precinct based optical scan voting systems which have already been federally approved New York State can be in full compliance with HAVA requirements.” said Aimee Allaud, Elections/Government Specialist of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “Paper Ballot Optical Scan voting systems with the addition of a ballot marker will provide secure, accurate, recountable and accessible voting.  DREs currently being demonstrated in New York State cannot, at present, meet that standard.”

“The impending action by the Department of Justice to enforce HAVA compliance makes it urgent that New York adopt optical scanners now.” said Bo Lipari, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. “If the DoJ action results in New York’s loss of HAVA equipment funding, we would still be required to replace lever machines. But without HAVA funds, New York’s taxpayers will pay the full purchase cost out of their own pockets. Adopting optical scanners rather than touchscreen voting machines will save New Yorkers over $100 million dollars in acquisition costs. There are many excellent reasons for adopting scanners. More than ever, the scanner alternative has become a no-brainer.”

The groups called on the State and local Boards of Elections to adopt statewide use of optical scanners and ballot marking devices as New York’s plan for rapid HAVA compliance.

The potential for statewide use of optical scans were enhanced by the demonstration by Election Systems and Software of a "full face ballot" version of their optical scan and diabled accessible ballot marking device in Rochester on January 5th. New York and Connecticut are the only states that require a full face ballot. Some questions remain about federal certification of the new configuration but since the modification requires only requires a change in firmware it seems like a viable solution for the state's dilemma.
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