DOJ sues NY over HAVA

The much-awaited U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against New York State’s compliance with HAVA has filed today. There is a wire story running, here is the text from the Houston Chronicle. Here is the text of the DOJ release, which I’ve quoted below verbatim:

WASHINGTON, D.C. ‑ The Justice Department announced today that it has filed suit against the State of New York alleging violations of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, in Albany.

The government’s complaint contends that the state has failed to comply with two of HAVA’s requirements governing federal elections: that states (i) adopt voting systems that are fully accessible by disabled voters and are capable of generating a permanent paper record that can be manually audited, and (ii) create a statewide computerized voter registration database. The lawsuit is the first filed to vindicate these important federal obligations.

“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. “We believe today’s lawsuit will help ensure that New York voters enjoy the benefits of these important reforms.”

HAVA was enacted with bipartisan support after the 2000 presidential election and was signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002. States had nearly three years to comply with the provisions enforced under today’s lawsuit, which took effect January 1, 2006.

This suit is the culmination of an extensive effort by the Civil Rights Division to ensure timely and full implementation of HAVA. The Division met with representatives from states around the country to appraise and assist with their implementation efforts. As part of this process, the Division closely reviewed New York officials’ steps to comply with HAVA. The Division repeatedly urged to New York to come into compliance on a voluntary basis. As of the January 1, 2006 deadline, however, New York was not close to compliance with either provision.

HAVA was the first federal statute to provide federal funds to states to support reform of federal elections. As the government’s complaint alleges, New York received approximately $221 million to assist its implementation of HAVA’s requirements. This included more than $49 million specifically designated to assist the state replace its lever voting machines. Under HAVA, New York stands to lose these earmarked funds if it fails to replace these machines by the September 2006 primary election. Today’s lawsuit seeks a determination that the State of New York is not in compliance with HAVA’s voting systems and database requirements, and an order requiring the state to submit promptly a plan demonstrating how it will come into full compliance.

It’ll be interesting to follow this case and to see what happens in New York as a result of the filing of this case.

Wednesday evening update:

There’s a story now in the New York Times on this case, especially discussing recent efforts to avoid this very outcome:

The state and the Justice Department have been negotiating for weeks to try to avoid a lawsuit, and state officials said that they expect those talks to continue. “We’ve engaged in extensive negotiations and, despite the lawsuit, we are hopeful an agreement can be reached to resolve this matter,” said Christine Pritchard, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which is defending the state.

Recent negotiations have centered on settling the suit with a consent decree that would create a stopgap measure for this fall’s elections, when New Yorkers will choose a United States senator, a governor, an attorney general, a comptroller and all 212 state lawmakers.

The measure, which elections officials call “Plan B,” would allow the old mechanical voting machines to be used again this fall, while making options available for disabled voters at each polling site. The alternatives could involve machines that would print ballots, which could then be marked, and a system for disabled people to cast votes by phone.