Justice Department Begins Actions Against States Over Accessible
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 3, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC--In its first legal action designed to enforce the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), the U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that it is suing the State of New York for violating the federal law by failing to adopt voting systems that are accessible to voters with disabilities and that have a paper record, and to develop a statewide computerized voter registration database.
The suit gives New York until the September 2006 primary election to comply with the law, which had required each polling place across the country to have at least one voting device that voters with disabilities can use to cast a secret ballot without assistance by January 1. If the state fails to upgrade in time, it could lose $49 million of the approximately $221 million the federal government gave it under HAVA to update voting systems.
The suit asks the court to order New York officials to develop a plan of action within the next 30 days on how the state would comply.
New York officials responded that they are doing everything they can to follow the law. They added that the suit would have little effect because it would be nearly impossible to bring their voting systems into line in the next nine months.
Congress passed HAVA in response to problems that surfaced with voting systems, some of which are more than 50 years old, during the 2000 general election.
A report issued earlier this month by an independent election watchdog group revealed that 19 of the 50 states had failed to meet the January 1 deadline.
In neighboring Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that counties could go ahead with the changes needed to comply with HAVA without requiring a voter approval.
Pennsylvania has a state law that requires counties to go to voters before changing from mechanical lever voting systems. The Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, argued before the court on Wednesday that the federal HAVA law makes that state law no longer valid.
A group of voters in Westmoreland County had challenged the federal law, claiming that nothing -- even a law passed by Congress -- should override Pennsylvania's constitution.
The Department of Justice is also threatening to sue Pennsylvania if it does not comply with HAVA by its May 6 primary election.
"New York Is Sued by U.S. on Delay of Vote System" (New York Times)
Text of complaint "United States v. New York State Board of Elections" (Electionline.org)
"State officials say federal lawsuit won't speed voting reforms" (The Journal News)
"U.S. threatens to sue Pa. over voting measures" (Philadelphia Inquirer)
"Court says Westmoreland may switch voting system" (Associated Press)