Assemblymember Cahill: Compromise Will Settle Most Outstanding Issues with the Help America Vote Act

Legislature comes to an agreement on voter verification and voting machines; fails to act on access for people with disabilities
June 22, 2005

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess) announced that the State Legislature has reached a compromise on legislation to implement most of the measures necessary for New York to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The Assembly and the Senate have resolved their differences on issues regarding voter verification and the purchase of new voting machines, but failed to agree on a significant measure that would protect the voting rights of people with disabilities. Assemblymember Cahill, for the past two years, has served on the Legislature’s HAVA Conference Committee and played a key role in negotiating the compromise announced today.

"Our efforts to implement the Help America Vote Act in New York are intended to protect the voting rights of all citizens. It is unconscionable that fifteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, some polling sites in New York are still inaccessible to citizens with disabilities," said Mr. Cahill. "We are not only required by law, but we also have a moral obligation to ensure access for all voters. If the Legislature closes this session without an agreement, then we have failed to complete our obligation."

The Assembly has passed legislation (A.120) authored by Assemblymember Cahill that requires every polling place to be accessible to voters with physical disabilities and provides guidelines which shall be in accordance with the accessibility requirements mandated pursuant to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The bill has unanimously passed the Assembly in each of the last three years. The Senate has thus far failed to consider it.

"New Yorkers with disabilities need the language change proposed in Assemblymember Cahill’s access bill to make this state compliant with federal law," said Brad Williams, Executive Director of the New York State Independent Living Council, Inc. "Anything less would be an abdication of responsibility."

The Senate and Assembly did manage to agree on two major issues that have stalled New York’s implementation of HAVA since the federal law was passed in 2002. The first measure allows boards of elections to verify the identity of individuals registering to vote through state databases or social security numbers to prevent voter fraud. The legislation contains safeguards to make sure no one is unfairly denied the right to vote, requiring local boards of elections to send notice to applicants if a discrepancy occurs while checking for input errors on their part. Acceptable voter identification for first-time voters will be consistent with the guidelines established in the federal HAVA legislation (A.8930).

The compromise does not provide that one type of voting machine be used throughout the state as the Assembly preferred. Instead, it establishes mandatory standards that all machines must meet if they are to be used in New York State and allows local boards of elections to pick among machine types that meet these standards. Local boards will be able to purchase optical scan machines as long as they conform to the specified requirements. The legislation mandates a voter-verified paper audit trail to ensure the accuracy of the machines, allowing voters to have confidence that their vote was correctly counted. In addition, the bill directs the State Board of Elections to create statewide standards for voter and poll worker education, aspects that are important in order to inform voters of technological changes as the new machines are introduced (A.8969).

Other measures agreed upon would consolidate election administration with local boards of elections (A.8931) and resolve longstanding governance problems at the state Board of Elections (A.8926). "While there is still much more to be done, this HAVA compromise will help to ensure New York does not lose out on more than $200 million in federal aid available for modernizing elections," Assemblymember Cahill concluded.