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Elections Board Asks City for an Extra $20 Million

Published: March 9, 2004

The New York City Board of Elections surprised City Council members yesterday with a request for almost $20 million it says it needs to cope with federal voting changes.

The request, which amounts to a 30 percent increase over the Bloomberg administration's $68 million budget for the board for the fiscal year starting in July, is driven mostly by a plan to hire more staff members and to begin campaigns to teach voters how to use electronic voting machines. The machines, being installed over the next two years, will replace the state's pull-lever devices.

John Ravitz, the executive director of the elections board, said he regretted having to submit a financing request with "all the zeros in it." But he said it was necessary to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, enacted after the 2000 presidential election to try to modernize the nation's voting system.

The city expects that some of the costs will be paid with federal money given to New York State, which has received an initial allotment of $63 million to distribute to municipalities for election upgrades. The state has not yet decided how to divide the money.

"Even though we hopefully will be reimbursed from some of that HAVA money," Mr. Ravitz said, "we need to start up now with the education and outreach component of the program."

Mr. Ravitz made his remarks during a City Council hearing on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposed $46 billion budget.

It is not unusual for agencies to come before the Council, hat in hand, seeking additional money before the final budget is adopted. Still, council members expressed surprise at the amount sought by the board and the implications of not providing it.

"This is an extraordinary request, and I'm very concerned," said Councilman Bill Perkins, chairman of the Governmental Operations Committee. "This is a request that suggests that without the right response, we're going to fail to serve the people in the upcoming election."

No decision on the board's request was made yesterday. Council members asked Mr. Ravitz to get back to them with estimates of how much of the $20 million could probably be covered by federal election money.

The board is seeking, among other things, $3.5 million to buy and renovate warehouse space to store the new voting machines, and $1 million to advertise the new voting requirements on radio and television.

The largest single component of the board's request is $5 million to design, print and distribute literature explaining how the electronic voting machines work and other aspects of the new federal election law. The new machines are not expected to be in use throughout the city until 2006 at the earliest.

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