March 24, 2006
By JAMES M. ODATO, Capitol bureau
ALBANY -- A judge on Thursday gave the state Board of Elections until April 10 to explain how it intends to comply with federal voting rules.
U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe set the deadline in granting the Department of Justice's injunction against the state.
Sharpe also rejected attempts by several third parties to intervene in the suit, which the DOJ lodged March 1 over the state's failure to comply with the Help America Vote Act.
Under HAVA, the state was supposed to replace its lever machines by this year's elections and create a computerized voter registry. However, the state is still figuring out how to certify new machines that counties would purchase, and developing the database system, making 2006 deadlines highly unlikely.
Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the elections board, said the state will submit an interim "Plan B" plan within the next 17 days with several temporary fixes. The plan calls for certifying ballot marking devices or vote-by-phone systems for the disabled that would be purchased by counties instead of new voting machines. Meanwhile, the state will set up an interim voter databank. It would use the old lever machines this fall.
Some county elections officials say they've yet to see the phone voting systems, and worry about spending money on temporary solutions when they'll still have to buy new voting machines.
The state and counties are slated to get $220 million in federal funds to comply with HAVA.
"Some say they can do it, some say they can't," Daghlian said. He said the counties could come up with some other ideas or petition the court. "The feds are suing us, not the county boards," he said.
Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Manhattan, who helped develop the law on New York's voting system criteria, said Plan B heads the state closer to its goals.
"Is it perfect? No," Wright said. "But with all the partisan bickering we had over HAVA it will give us a way to gradually ease into full compliance."
Bo Lipari, leader of a citizens group pushing for paper ballots and optical scanning machines, said Sharpe's order is reasonable and the delays may benefit New York, allowing other states that met the HAVA deadline to deal with any bugs.
He said the board of elections and Legislature share blame for delays, but the federal government is also at fault for taking months to provide guidance.
A spokesman for the DOJ did not return a call.
James M. Odato can be reached at 454-5083 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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