May 2005

Help America
Vote Act

From the NYS Assembly • Sheldon Silver, Speaker
Keith Wright • Chair, Election Law Committee

Assembly plan makes voting easier for New Yorkers
thumbs up Assembly legislation
Lists specific features new voting machines would be required to have in order to ensure votes are accurately cast and counted

thumbs down Senate legislation
Is silent on specific features and passes the buck to the state Board of Elections to adopt minimum standards for voting machines

thumbs up Assembly legislation
Requires HAVA money to be distributed based on the number of registered voters in each county or city

thumbs down Senate legislation
Merely requires the state Board of Elections to report their guidelines for the distribution of HAVA funding, as well as past expenditures, which could lead to some localities being shortchanged when it comes to upgrading voting equipment

thumbs up Assembly legislation
Addresses in detail requirements to make it easier for the disabled to vote

thumbs down Senate legislation
Continues to allow waivers to be issued to facilities that do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act

Assembly legislation
Ensures that a local board of elections will make a further inquiry when an error or discrepancy between a person’s name and their Social Security or Department of Motor Vehicles number, to ensure that no one is unfairly denied their right to vote

thumbs down Senate legislation
Only requires checking to make sure a data entry error wasn’t made by the Board of Elections
Assembly passes bills to help New York vote

Legislation would implement Help America Vote Act

The Assembly passed two bills to bring New York into compliance with the Help America Vote Act, and a third bill to resolve longstanding partisan governance problems at the state Board of Elections.

Improving voting standards

The first of two bills that have been agreed upon by the joint legislative HAVA conference committee would create a statewide voter registration list (A.6733) by combining existing local lists maintained by local election boards. The integrated system would be administered by the state Board of Elections and would allow local Boards of Elections access through existing computer systems.

It’s essential that we bring our voter registration system up to HAVA standards. This bill does that, while still allowing local Boards of Elections to continue using their existing computer systems. The Assembly’s bill further requires the state Board of Elections to furnish information about deaths and felony convictions to local Boards of Elections so they can identify and remove those who are not eligible to vote.

Ensuring that the voting reform works

The second bill establishes an administrative complaint procedure that a voter may use to ensure compliance with HAVA reforms (A.6655).

The goal of HAVA is to ensure that all citizens who are eligible to vote are able to participate in our democracy. HAVA also seeks to ensure that every vote cast is counted. This bill encourages involvement in the electoral process by improving the integrity and efficiency of our elections.

Fostering bipartisanship in administering our election process

The Assembly also passed the state Board of Elections governance bill (A.6504), which would resolve longstanding partisan problems by appointing a bipartisan executive staff at the state Board of Elections. The bill awaits action in the state Senate.

If we’re to have fair and efficiently-run elections in this state, we can’t afford to contend with partisan conflicts within the Board of Elections. As we’ve seen this year already with the passage of an on-time budget, bipartisan cooperation is the best way to an effective government.

A real plan to improve voting

The Senate’s acceptance of the Assembly’s invitation to restart conference committees on Help America Vote Act compliance legislation is an encouraging sign of progress. However, the Assembly is eager to finalize legislation on which machines will be purchased to replace the lever machines and how the federal HAVA money will be distributed to county governments for the machines. The Assembly’s legislation would protect our voting rights by spelling out specific details on these issues in state law, while the Senate’s legislation would delegate how these issues would be addressed to state bureaucrats.

Similarly, the Assembly would safeguard our rights by specifically addressing how to guarantee the disabled will have access to polling places, and how to protect individuals from being prohibited from registering to vote as a result of bureaucratic processing errors. However, the Senate has so far been content to allow some eligible voters to be denied the right to cast their vote.

Elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. The Assembly’s legislation will help ensure they are run effectively in New York. The Assembly urges the Senate to pass these important measures and deliver them to the governor for his signature.

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