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The Journal News.

 

State elections board discusses U.S. lawsuit in closed session

 

By CARA MATTHEWS

ALBANY BUREAU

(Original Publication: November 8, 2007)

 

ALBANY - The state Board of Elections refused yesterday to discuss publicly how it would respond to the U.S. Justice Department's demands that New York have new voting machines in place for next fall's elections.

 

Commissioners of the Elections Board, which has been sued by the federal agency for not complying with election-modernization law, voted 3-1 to take up the matter in closed session. The Justice Department filed a motion in U.S. District Court this week that would force New York to fast-track its election-modernization plans, and the state has about two weeks to file its response. Commissioners have said they need until 2009 to have everything in place.

 

"When we do have decisions, they will certainly be known to everybody," said Commissioner Evelyn Aquila, a Democrat.

 

Also yesterday, commissioners discussed a query from the Democrat and Republican elections commissioners in Albany County on whether the state Elections Board has a procedure for working with the federal government to verify voters' citizenship. The question was prompted by Gov. Eliot Spitzer's controversial plan to grant illegal immigrants drivers' licenses, a hot-button issue that has received national attention and strong opposition from the Republican Party and others.

 

"As you can see, while this change is designed to allow non-citizens to obtain a driver's license, it could lead to a large number of unqualified registration applicants submitting the voter registration form. Unfortunately, there is no procedure for county boards of election to verify citizenship status," said Republican Elections Commissioner Helena Moses Donohue.

 

"We urge the governor to reconsider his new policy in light of the potential impact on voter registration," said Donohue, who spoke on behalf of herself and Republican Commissioner Neil Kelleher.

 

Democratic Commissioner Douglas Kellner said swearing that you are a citizen has been the procedure since voter registration was initiated.

 

"The idea to just assume large numbers of people are lying on voter-registration forms, I don't think there is any evidence of that," he said.

 

Democratic Albany County Elections Commissioner Matthew Clyne said after the meeting that there should be some method to verify citizenship other than accepting someone's word. Clyne said he is not suggesting every person's citizenship be investigated, but some cases may raise red flags that warrant a check. He doesn't suspect there would be a large amount of fraud, he said.

 

Many applicants use their driver's license or state identification number to register, or the last four digits of their Social Security number, but other types of identification are accepted.

 

"I think it would be a useful tool for the boards of elections to have available to them. Otherwise, it's just kind of a, you know, we're all on the honor system," Clyne said.

 

Some representatives of voting-rights organizations asked to be heard on the issue.

 

Attorney Andrea Novick, co-coordinator of education with the Election Defense Alliance, said there's not enough time to properly test and certify equipment by September, as the Justice Department is demanding.

 

Copyright 2007 The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper serving Westchester, Rockland and

Putnam Counties in New York.