Assemblymember Cahill: Assembly Passes Voting Reforms

Legislation advances towards implementing Help America Vote Act
April 25, 2005

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess) announced the Assembly recently passed two bills that would implement several election reform procedures necessary to bring New York closer towards compliance with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

HAVA, passed by the Congress in 2002, provides funding for states to modernize their election processes provided they pass legislation implementing certain aspects of the act in order to qualify. New York has until the end of the year to conform to HAVA standards or risk losing $219 million in federal dollars. The legislation, passed last week and delivered to the Governor, will create a statewide voter registration list (A.6733) and establish an administrative complaint procedure to address voter concerns (A.6655).

"The right to vote and the knowledge that your vote will be counted are the foundations our democracy is built upon," said Mr. Cahill. "The legislation acted upon last week will serve to protect the voting rights of all New Yorkers as we move forward with the implementation of the federal Help America Vote Act. "There are still a number of key issues that we need to come to agreement on before New York may be considered fully HAVA compliant."

A joint Assembly and Senate conference committee has been convened to decide how New York will proceed with the voting reforms. Assemblymember Cahill, who has served as a representative on the HAVA committee for the past two years, noted these bills represent the product of public negotiations between the Senate and Assembly. The remaining issues needing to be resolved for the state to become HAVA complaint center around which technology will be purchased to replace New York’s lever machines, how the federal money will be distributed for the machines, disability access issues and what process will be utilized to verify a voter’s identity when he or she registers to vote.

Of the two pieces of legislation passed last week, the first would create a statewide voter registration list (A.6733), a requirement of HAVA, by consolidating existing local lists maintained by local election boards. This list would be administered by the State Board of Elections and fully accessible by local Boards of Elections using their existing computer systems. "One major consideration of the conference committee was to minimize the local costs of creating and maintaining this statewide list," Mr. Cahill said. "Rather than mandating all municipalities adopt costly new technologies, the list maintained by the State Board of Elections will be made compatible with all current computer hardware and software presently used by the local boards." Changes to the statewide list will be made at the local level and merged into the State Board of Election’s database. "It is important that the local boards of elections maintain control of modifying, adding or deleting records as they are most informed about the voters within their communities," Assemblymember Cahill stated.

The second bill establishes an administrative complaint procedure to address voter concerns (A.6655), satisfying another of the state’s required actions. The bill amends the Election Law to provide a forum for citizens to take action in the event of perceived violations of the standards established by HAVA. "Two of the guiding principles shared by all members of the conference committee are that every qualified voter be given the opportunity to register and vote privately and independently and that every vote is counted," said Mr. Cahill. "In order to make sure these values are cherished, we must enable voters to take an active role in seeing these objectives are not violated. The complaint procedure would formalize this process to promote the continuous improvement necessary to achieve our goal that all eligible voters are able to participate in our democracy."

Mr. Cahill also discussed a third bill designed to end the partisan politics that have compromised the governing integrity of the State Board of Elections. The Assembly has passed a Board of Elections governance bill (A.6504), which would appoint a bipartisan executive staff at the State Board of Elections. "Recent problems in the Board’s leadership have compromised its ability to run elections efficiently and fairly," Mr. Cahill noted, referring to a seat that was vacated 18 months ago and Governor Pataki has thus far been reluctant to appoint a replacement. "This bill would provide bipartisan representation within the organization of the State Board of Elections and would place strict time constraints and selection standards on filling these positions," he noted. "If we are to succeed in our efforts to protect voting integrity, it is essential that our elections are administered absent any conflicted partisan interests."

The HAVA conference committee last met in late March. Since then the Assembly has repeatedly asked the Senate to reconvene the committee in order to come to agreements on the remaining outstanding compliance issues. "It is imperative that the Senate agree to continue these public negotiations if we are going to complete these necessary reforms to our voting system by this year’s deadline," Mr. Cahill concluded.