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Spitzer: State Legislature must act on vote system overhaul

By MARC HUMBERT  AP Political Writer

February 7, 2005, 11:40 AM EST

ALBANY, N.Y. The Legislature's failure to agree on an overhaul of New York's voting system _ from new machines to computerized registration lists _ is "an embarrassment" that could cost the state $219 million in federal funds, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said Monday.

"This is really a repeat of where we were four years ago," Spitzer told a state Capitol news conference.

It was four years ago that Spitzer, in the wake of the Florida presidential election problems, issued a highly critical report calling for an overhaul of New York's voting system. He issued a second report Monday, this one called "No Time to Waste."

Calling the needed changes "simple," Spitzer said, "We have still done nothing."

In the wake of the federal Help America Vote Act, New York and other states were promised substantial federal funding if they would their voting machines, computerize voting lists and otherwise modernize their systems.

But in New York, progress has been slowed by partisan bickering between the Republican-led state Senate, Republican Gov. George Pataki and the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The result is that New Yorkers are still using the old lever-action voting machines and there is no statewide voter registration list.

There was no immediate comment Monday from leaders of the Senate and Assembly on Spitzer's report.

Spitzer said that by his count, the state is at risk of losing $219 million in federal funds if it doesn't meet a deadline of getting the voting system overhauled in time for the 2006 elections.

Democrat Spitzer has said he plans to run for governor in 2006. He scoffed at theories that some of his proposals for updating New York's voting system _ and making it easier to vote _ could help Democrats in a state where they already have a 5-3 voter registration advantage over Republicans.

Spitzer did point to the still-disputed state Senate election in Westchester County as proof that New York has to its voting procedures.

"The 35th Senate District has now become Dade County (Florida)," Spitzer said.

Battles over which ballots should be counted in the Senate district _ the dispute has gone to the state's highest court _ have left it up in the air whether Republican incumbent Nicholas Spano or Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the senator. The battle has already left the district without representation for more than a month in the Senate.

In addition to new voting machines and statewide voter registration lists, Spitzer said New York should, among other things, allow same-day voter registration on Election Day and spend extra money on training new poll workers.

"The average age is 75 years old" of current poll workers in New York, said Barbara Bartoletti of the state League of Women Voters. She stood at Spitzer's side during his news conference.

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