New York faces federal suit over voter accessibility

The state of New York is being threatened with a federal lawsuitfor failing to comply with the Help America Vote Act, whichrequires actions such as the development of statewidevoter-registration databases and the installation of e-votingsystems or other voting machines that arehandicapped-accessible.

The legal threat came in a letter sent to state officials lastmonth by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Wan Kim. In the letter,Kim said that New York is “further behind” in HAVA compliance thanany other state and that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hasauthorized lawsuits against the state and its electionsboard.

Kim added, though, that the U.S. Department of Justice would rathernegotiate a settlement with New York officials than go through”costly and protracted litigation.”

HAVA was passed by Congress in 2002 in an attempt to improve thefederal elections process. All 50 states were required to meet thelaw’s provisions by the start of this year or face sanctions by theDOJ.

Several state officials interviewed recently acknowledged that theyremain in violation of the statute, but only New York has beenpublicly warned that a lawsuit is possible.

A spokesman for the New York Elections Board acknowledged last weekthat the state lacks handicapped-accessible voting equipment andhas not yet created the required voter-registration database.

The board is discussing the status of its efforts with the DOJ, thespokesman said, adding that the state was delayed in starting HAVAprojects while it waited for the New York legislature to createvendor certification processes and other rules. The legislation wasfinally passed last July.

The spokesman said state officials expect work on the voterregistration database to be done before the federal primaryelections in September. The elections board is also speeding up thecertification process for handicapped-accessible voting machines,he said.

The state could be forced to return some of the US$220 million ithas received for HAVA compliance work if the requirements aren’tmet.

A DOJ spokesman declined to say what penalties might be imposed onNew York or to offer any further information on the matter.

New York Not Alone Officials in some states claim to be compliantwith HAVA, but a number of other states are still scrambling tocomply with the law.

Spokesmen for the secretaries of state in Texas and Ohio, forexample, said that those states are fully compliant with HAVA,whereas officials in California and Connecticut acknowledged thatthey still aren’t meeting the requirements of the law.

In a survey conducted late last year by the National Association ofSecretaries of State (NASS), only 24 of the 43 states thatresponded said they expected to be fully compliant by the Jan. 1deadline.

DOJ personnel are talking to state elections officials and are”evaluating the situation of each state,” said the agency’sspokesman. “We will then determine what action should be taken, ifany.” He declined to say whether any states besides New York havebeen formally threatened with a lawsuit.

Sam Reed, president of the NASS, said most states have done afairly good job of responding to HAVA’s requirements, consideringthat the federal deadlines weren’t realistic from his point ofview.

Reed, who is Washington’s secretary of state, said he didn’t knowthe specific status of member states because of the less than fullparticipation in the association’s survey and because stateofficials “tend to play it close to the vest.”

Based on his experience in the state of Washington, Reed said, theDOJ has so