Kavanagh Chairs First Hearing of Subcommittee on Election Operations and Voting Rights

October 22, 2009

On October 22, 2009, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was recently appointed to head the Assembly Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement, chaired the subcommittee’s first public hearing since his appointment. The hearing covered issues related to electronic voting in New York and was held jointly with the Assembly Committees on Election Law, chaired by Assemblymember Joan Millman, the Committee on Education, chaired by Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, and the Committee on Libraries and Education Technology, chaired by Assemblymember Barbara Lifton. Also participating in the hearing were Assemblymembers Michael Benjamin, Sandy Galef, and Marcus Molinaro.

In a process that began with passage of the Federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, New York State is currently phasing out mechanical lever voting machines for all State and Federal elections and many local elections, and replacing them with voting machines that scan paper ballots filled out by voters. The new machines are already in use in 47 upstate counties as part of a pilot program designed to identify and remedy problems with the system.

Douglas Kellner, Co-Chair of the New York State Board of Elections, and Robert Brehm, Co-Executive Director, gave testimony on the progress of the pilot program and pointed out potential areas for improvement. Marcus Cederqvist and several other witnesses from the New York City Board of Elections testified on plans to implement the new machines in the five boroughs and funding issues facing the City board. Representing the New York State Library, State Librarian Bernard Margolis spoke about how municipal units – such as fire, school, and library districts – might use the new machines in their elections.

Some witnesses said they had serious concerns about the security and integrity of elections run using the new machines, including Virginia Martin, an election commissioner for Columbia County. Kavanagh and other members of the Assembly committees explored these concerns in a series of questions to the witnesses – both the skeptics and the proponents of the new machines – and Kavanagh restated his commitment to guaranteeing the integrity and reliability of New York’s voting systems.

Election integrity in New York State depends on the cooperation of government officials at all levels – federal, state, and local. Hearings on matters of mutual concern help cultivate those relation-ships, but the work cannot end there. As always, Kavanagh invites election officials and any interested citizens to contact him directly, or through Ames Grawert in his district office at 212-979-9696.