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New York behind on voting machines, Common Cause says

(Original publication: October 25, 2004)

New York lags behind other states in getting electronic voting machines that would help disabled people vote more easily, good-government advocates said.

"The Legislature was supposed to have the machines up and running now," said Rachel Leon, executive director of Common Cause NY. "They got a bunch of waivers because they couldn't agree."

New York has until Jan. 1, 2006, to comply with the Help America Vote Act, a federal law that requires states to upgrade their voting machines and improve accessibility at polling places.

The new voting machines could have touch screens, audio equipment for blind voters or other technology so people with even severe disabilities could vote. New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, Nevada, and most of Kentucky and New Mexico are among states that will use electronic voting machines Nov. 2.

New York lawmakers disagree on what machines to buy or how to buy them.

The Assembly wants the state Board of Elections to choose one brand of voting machine for everyone, but the Senate would rather create standards for the machines and allow local governments to buy their own.

Jim Dickson, vice president for governmental affairs of the American Association for People with Disabilities, said New York was unlikely to meet the deadline if lawmakers continued to move at their current pace.

"You need to buy equipment a year before you're ready to use it," he said.

State Sen. Thomas Morahan, chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, is leading the effort in Albany to get the new machines.

Morahan, R-New City, said he called for a conference committee when lawmakers return to Albany on Nov. 18. He denied that New York was behind schedule.

"There's many states who are in the same position," he said. "I don't think its going to take us very long to buy the machines. We'll have the machines in place to do the job."

Morahan said complying with the Help America Vote Act was not just about machines. He said the Legislature already had met one HAVA requirement by enacting a law requiring first-time voters to show identification at polling places.

"HAVA is a major undertaking," he said. "I want to be very careful before spending millions and millions of dollars."

Sherry DeFrancesco of Mount Kisco would like the new machines in place as soon as possible. Two poll workers must accompany DeFrancesco, who is blind, into the voting booth.

"Once accessible voting machines are bought," she said, "I think many more people with disabilities will get out and vote."

Leon said she hoped that by waiting to buy the machines until after Nov. 2, state lawmakers could learn from problems in other states.

"Their dysfunction," she said, "may work for them."

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