STATEMENT: Election Task Force Members Warn of Problems with State's Help America Vote Act Implementation

Release Date: 
September 14, 2009

First Use of New Optical Scan Ballots, Other Issues In Focus for September 15 Primary

New York, NY — On the eve of a primary election in New York, a coalition of New York-based voting rights and election experts are publishing a critique of the state's amended implementation the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). One of these reforms, a county-by-county switchover to optical scan voting machines, will be implemented to varying degrees in more than 45 counties across New York on September 15th, which, through training and implementation difficulties, could produce problems at polling stations.

The comments were submitted by eight public members of the state's HAVA Implementation Task Force, who were invited earlier in the year by New York's Chief Election Officer, Stanley Zalen to submit comments on the HAVA plan before it was finalized by the State Board of Elections.

The eight Task Force members, while appreciative of improvements adopted in the amended plan, were nevertheless disappointed that the state failed to correct other flaws in New York elections. The Task Force members criticized a number of decisions by the State Board of Elections, including the following:

  • Rejection of requiring direct hands-on training for poll workers in the new optical scan voting systems being deployed at 1,090 poll sites the state;
  • Rejection of the creation and funding of an educational mailing from the State Board of Elections to the more than 1,400,000 voters whose lever machines will be replaced this year, describing how to vote using the new optical scan voting systems;
  • Failure to require the State or County Boards of Elections to report the number, and to breakdown the type of complaints reported by voters on Election Day;
  • Rejection of more aggressive efforts to ensure full access for voters at the polls, including assignment of at least one poll worker to assist voters using ballot marking devices - the new voting assistance devices that debuted in last year's elections;
  • Refusal to recommend changes in New York election law that have been adopted in other states, such as removing arbitrary restrictions on the use of the new, computerized statewide voter registry such that voters who have recently moved can cast uncontested ballots, or directing that all New York counties utilize the information contained on an Affidavit/Provisional Ballot envelope to update voters' registration records and correct errors.
  • Failure to fully promoting transparency and accountability in the HAVA implementation process, including rejecting essential web-based reporting mechanisms.
  • Rejection of pro-active statewide policies to reduce disfranchisement at the polls, including use of common-sense protocols for verifying the identity of voters using hyphenated names or common nicknames, or where counties have transposed surnames and family names or made data entry errors into the voter registry.
  • Failure to exerting greater state oversight over local county boards of elections, in order to ensure the fair and uniform administration of elections across the state

The groups noted that while no voting system is perfect, that the state's decision not to embrace its recommended reforms will mean unnecessary problems at the polls and increase the likelihood of voter disenfranchisement.

The eight public members of the Task Force also took exception with several claims made by the New York State Board of Elections in its amended HAVA implementation plan. For example, the state's assertion that it has implemented a single, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list is at odds with the fact that New York has delegated much authority over voter registration to local boards of elections. Such devolution of authority to the counties risks the non-uniform and unequal treatment of voters, depending upon where they live. In addition, the state can not assert full compliance with the federal National Voter Registration Act, given a lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Department of Justice (for failure to offer voter registration opportunities at offices serving disabled students at the state's public universities and colleges), and ongoing problems with the distribution and transmittal of registration forms by public agencies.

Task Force members were drawn from across the disability, voting rights, academic and civic community, including the League of Women Voters of New York State, Demos, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an academic specializing in voting issues, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Inc., the Center for Law & Social Justice - Medgar Evers College, and the New York State Independent Living Counsel.

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