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Voting reform stymies NY lawmakers


February 24, 2004
ALBANY Two years after the federal government ordered states to overhaul voter technology, the Legislature Monday continued to flounder over how to fix New York's election system, passing a flurry of competing reform bills.

The Democrat-led Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate said they hoped to compromise before the session ends, but even if they do officials concede it will be too late to affect this year's election.

After the 2000 presidential contest ended with Florida's voting fiasco, Congress authorized up to $3.9 billion in federal aid to revamp the nation's election system. The legislation required that by 2006 the state must upgrade its voting equipment, train poll inspectors and create an electronic voter database.

New York received $66.5 million last year and is expected to have $235 million by next fiscal year, even though lawmakers have not been able to agree on how to spend it.

"The legislature is holding up money that's not theirs," said Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the state board of election. "We're afraid that if we don't meet these guidelines, we'll have to forfeit funds we haven't used," he said.

Under the bills passed Monday, both the Assembly and Senate would create a statewide complaint procedure, a voter registration list and ban punch ballots, among other things.

However, the Assembly proposals call for placing voting machines and poll workers under county election board control, expanding the list of accepted identification and giving more assistance for disabled people.

"It is our initial philosophy to have as many people vote to err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan.)

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-New Brunswick) declined to get into specifics. "As it usually works out, we'll negotiate, we'll compromise, but I don't have the specifics," he said.

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