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New York may fall short of voting guidelines

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Link to original content: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060211/NEWS01/602110321/1002/NEWS&template=printart

State officials say missing mark for new machines is very likely

by Joseph Spector
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Staff writer
FEBRUARY 11, 2006

State elections officials are just about conceding that they won't be able to meet federal guidelines that require new voting machines for this year's election.

Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the state Board of Elections, said this week that the timeline to buy new machines and have election inspectors trained by the September primary is simply becoming too tight.

"We're going to try, but I don't think there is going to be enough time for training and such," he said.

If the deadline is blown, the state faces losing some of the roughly $220 million designated by the federal government for the machines and training. It also means that the old mechanical lever machines that date back decades will once again be used this year.

Following the 2000 presidential election voting controversy, the federal government adopted the Help America Vote Act requiring states to implement new regulations this year.

But New York has been the slowest in the nation to adopt new regulations and install new machines. New York also has failed to compile a statewide computerized list of registered voters as required by HAVA. The Justice Department last month threatened to sue because the state already has missed the January 1 deadline for meeting the guidelines.

If the state can't have the new machines in place by the September primary, Daghlian said election officials are considering buying some type of scan machine that would assist disabled voters in marking paper ballots - a way to temporarily meet some of the HAVA requirements.

Monroe County election officials aren't ready to throw in the towel, though.

"We certainly don't want to slow down if in fact we are not going to do it this year," said Democratic commissioner Thomas Ferrarese.

Timing is becoming everything. The state elections board allowed citizens until late January to comment on newly proposed regulations. The state board plans to publish any changes next week, then give final approval February 28, Daghlian said.

After that, the state would certify models for use, likely a mix of ATM-like touch screens and optical scanners that read ballots like standardized tests in schools. Then each county would pick what it wants to buy.

All of that is supposed to happen in the next few months. Then elections inspectors would need to be trained. But part of the problem is that there is no guarantee that private manufacturers can quickly produce the 20,000 machines needed in the state.

So having the new machines ready to go for the 2007 elections, not this year, is looking more like a viable option - something Connecticut recently decided to do.

"As every day goes by, it's becoming more realistic that we may not go with the new equipment" this year, said Peter Quinn, Monroe County Republican elections commissioner.

Chris Hilderbrant, director of advocacy for the Rochester-based Center for Disability Rights, said it's disappointing that state officials spent years haggling over the regulations, instead of approving new ones in a timely manner. But he said the state shouldn't adopt poor regulations in haste.

"Giving them more time hopefully means that we'll have better machines, but I've yet to be convinced," he said.

E-mail the author of this article, Joseph Spector, at JSPECTOR@DemocratandChronicle.com

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