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:
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.