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In a state that has produced the likes of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, could fix their own problems first.




Despite federal suit, New York says it can't comply by election time


Yancey Roy

Albany bureau



(March 2, 2006) — ALBANY — New Yorkers will vote on the familiar lever-style voting machines in 2006, officials and watchdog groups said, despite a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.


The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday followed through on threats to sue New York for its tardiness in complying with a federally mandated overhaul of its election system. It's the first lawsuit of its kind under the federal Help America Vote Act.


The lawsuit may put New York under the nation's spotlight, but it may be more symbolic than practical. Despite the legal action, there is insufficient time to replace the lever-style machines for this year's statewide elections, officials said.


"The lawsuit isn't going to change anything," said Douglas Kellner, a member of the state Board of Elections. Getting new machines "can't be done" in time, he said.


Sally Brown, co-chairwoman of the League of Women Voters in Rochester, said it's disheartening that the state hasn't been able to resolve the issue itself. Because of the lawsuit, she's concerned that an effort to get new machines may be done in haste, without adequately addressing accessibility and security issues.


"New York state is as usual behind, as usual dysfunctional and as usual not doing the job," she said. "Our federal government is actually suing us to get going. It's pretty ridiculous."


But some election watchdog groups — who have criticized the state's three-year slog toward election reform — defended the state. They said forcing a swift resolution could create chaos.


"It's absurd to rush such a process," said Neil Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group. "This action (lawsuit) may do more harm than good."


New York didn't pass legislation to enact the changes until last summer — the last state to do so. But its tardiness had some advantages. For example, other states had problems compiling databases and had to start over. New York officials figured they are now in the middle of the pack.


Some participants in the Democrat and Chronicle's Reader Interactive Project said the state was at fault.


"New York is always late in anything," wrote Norma J. Cummings of Greece. "I am not surprised. I do hate to see New York lose any of the funding available. ... However, the voting machines we are currently using 'do the job' and always have."


Will Herzog of Rochester said that he can't imagine anyone who couldn't find help at the voting booth if needed.


"We are just a too litigious society," Herzog said. "States have lost all power to the feds. The bounds of power is whatever our emperor's staff says; not the Constitution."


Monica Mattioli of Elba, Genesee County, said the state should have understood what it meant to be given a deadline.


"In my opinion, regardless of whether the federal government overstepped or not, a mandate is a mandate. Compliance is mandatory. Clearly (the state) understands what a mandate is."


Still, John D. Coy of Clarkson said he believes New York state has one of the best voting systems in the country.


"The dysfunction is at the federal level; we are one of the few states that have not had any problems with our election machines or our counts. Simply it is another way for the federal government to be able to have more control over the people. I do not care what they say, every computer system can be tampered with and that is what some politicians and political parties would like. Look at what has happened in Florida and Ohio — need I say more?"


Carrie Paddock of Rochester said the federal government has a lot of nerve suing New York. The federal government, she said, has "failed to approve of these machines."


"Our 'elderly' lever machines are still the best thing going. They are easy to use and the people understand them. They may not always be handicap-accessible; however, these machines are approved by the federal government."


Amy Zaborowski of Henrietta sees the issue as an example of New York ignoring its citizens: "I believe that all should have equal access to voting. Differently abled voters should not be forgotten."


New York officials had been feverishly negotiating with the Justice Department to avoid the lawsuit — which could cost the state about $49 million in aid earmarked for voting machines. They told federal officials they would continue to use the old machines while considering two stopgap methods for disabled voters, including one that would employ a telephone system to cast a ballot.




Includes reporting by staff writer Joseph Spector.

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