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U.S. Is Suing New York Over 2002 Voting Law

The state has been the slowest to implement the Help America Vote Act, according to federal officials, and could lose $49 million in aid.

March 02, 2006|From Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Department of Justice sued the state of New York on Wednesday over its worst-in-the-nation record of complying with the Help America Vote Act, the first time federal officials have sued a state over the new voting requirements.

Adopted after the disputed 2000 presidential election, the act was designed to update the nation's voting systems. Supporters of the act have identified New York as making the least progress in complying with the legislation.

But a frequent critic of New York's compliance said the federal lawsuit might "do more harm than good" by forcing New York to quickly buy new voting machines that could be low-quality. That could "throw this [2006] election into chaos," said Neal Rosenstein of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

"It's absurd to rush such a process," he said. "The rotten HAVA implementation process on the state level shouldn't be mirrored by a rotten judicial enforcement process."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Albany and charged that the state had failed to put in place a system that would allow disabled voters to cast their own ballots capable of generating a paper record, and that the state had failed to create a statewide computerized voter registration database.

"HAVA contains important reforms designed to ensure that elections for federal office will both allow access to all voters and ensure the integrity of the process," said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for civil rights, in a statement released by the department. "We believe today's lawsuit will help ensure that New York voters enjoy the benefits of these important reforms."

The state had been negotiating with Justice Department officials for weeks to avoid the suit.

The lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the state to promptly submit a plan detailing how it will comply with the law signed by President Bush in 2002. The provisions at issue in Wednesday's lawsuit took effect Jan. 1.

Thus far, New York has received $221 million in federal aid to help it comply with requirements, including $49 million specifically dedicated to replacing the state's lever-action voting machines. A news release from the Justice Department said New York could lose the $49 million if it does not have new voting machines in place by the state primary election in September. State officials have said it is unlikely they will be required to return the money.

There was no immediate response Wednesday to the lawsuit from New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer, who has been representing the state in talks with Justice Department officials.

Federal officials have also been talking to other states about their progress on the act.

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