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Touch to vote: Liberty Election System’s DRE voting machine.

Bad Touch

Touch-screen voting machines are dealt a blow by the New York State Board of Elections

‘DRE advocates are like zombies,” said New Yorkers for Verified Voting director Bo Lipari. “Every time you think you kill them they rise again from the dead—so we have to keep on our toes to make sure New York votes on paper, and yesterday went a long way towards ensuring that.” On Thursday the New York State Board of Elections voted to reject all touch-screen, or DRE (direct-recording electronic), voting systems that had been put before them, thereby almost certainly ensuring that when New Yorkers vote in 2009 they will be voting on paper ballots that are registered by optical-scan voting machines.

However, Liberty, whose DRE machine was rejected, has filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court to be allowed to have their machine placed on the list of those approved. Their case will be heard this Thursday.

In October, 2008, the BOE will finally decide what machines will replace all of its current lever-voting machines.

For five years, Bo Lipari has lobbied to ensure that New York will use optical-scan voting technology to make sure there is a certifiable paper trail available for recounting election results. DRE machines have been known to record votes improperly, and when they do there is no way to recount a vote. Lipari said that he was baffled by the lengths to which DRE supporters would go to ensure their machines were approved. “On Wednesday the Republicans (commissioners) were just acting like spoiled children, refusing to come in the room so there could be no quorum, so there could be no vote,” described Lipari. “It was a pathetic display, and it was insulting to the voters of New York State.”

Republican commissioners insisted that it isn’t up to the state BOE to decide whether or not a machine complies with the law. Democratic commissioner Douglas Kellner insisted that if the BOE does not, no one else will.

At issue—besides making sure the machines have a verifiable trail—was whether the machines meet standards for disabled voters. “A disabled voter must be able to verify his or her ballot independently, and in this context produce something he or she can use, with the aids, to see if it was recorded properly. If the machine doesn’t do that, it doesn’t meet our requirements. It is as simple as that,” said Aimee Allaud of the League of Women Voters.

Allaud said New Yorkers now have the benefit of being able to test the optical-scan machines that will be available this November before they are forced to use them in 2009. “In 2008 anyone who asks, in every county in New York, will be able to use whatever it is that is available.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


What a Week

Choosing Sides

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) broke his neutrality and endorsed Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the Democratic primary. Kennedy had said that he was friends with all three remaining Democratic candidates, but according to Kennedy insiders, he became disenchanted with the campaign of Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) because of what they called “divisive” comments made by Bill Clinton. Newsweek and The New York Times reported that Kennedy and other prominent Democrats have chided Clinton for his aggressive attacks on Obama, which they say have damaged his status as an elder statesman. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s Obama endorsement damaged his status as a supporter of women’s rights, at least with the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women: Chapter President Marcia Pappas issued a stinging response, saying, “Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. . . . Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him. . . . We are repaid with his abandonment! He’s picked the new guy over us. He’s joined the list of progressive white men who can’t or won’t handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton.” The national NOW office then scrambled to issue its own, more conciliatory statement.

Getting Away With Murder

Former Indonesian dictator Suharto died a free man. More than a million deaths have been attributed to his brutal reign, which lasted for three decades, and 200,000 more due to his invasion of East Timor. An ardent supporter of Western countries, he attempted to purge Indonesia of communism by killing or imprisoning intellectuals, activists, or anyone suspected of such agitating against capitalism and his military rule. He was a friend of the West throughout the Cold War, but after the Berlin Wall fell, his human-rights abuses became too embarrassing to ignore. In 1993, the United Nations passed a resolution criticizing the Suharto government’s actions in East Timor. Suharto left office soon after, but not before he allegedly funneled billions of dollars away from the Indonesian government.



Insurance Policy

As Bush administration regulations block New York from insuring children, a group of families take it to the courts

George W. Bush almost managed to close out his presidency without his administration ever having been sued by children. Almost.

Five children and their families are suing the Bush administration in a federal lawsuit alleging that it unlawfully instituted new regulations for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), caused New York’s proposed plan to be rejected, and thus denied them the affordable insurance the plan would have provided. The suit, filed on Jan. 17, is the first in the country on behalf of children affected by these regulations.

SCHIP, originally enacted in 1997 by the Clinton administration, affords federal funding to states to provide lower-cost health insurance for children whose families cannot afford it, but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The program, which received bipartisan support, was built with broad federal regulations that allowed states to tailor the program to suit its citizen’s year-to-year needs.

“Up to last summer, the government wasn’t turning down states,” said Bryan Hetherington of the Empire Justice Center, lead counsel on the case.

The families claim that the Bush administration violated the provisions of the SCHIP statute with an August memo issued by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that imposed new, stricter regulations on the program without first submitting the changes for public debate and approval. Under these new regulations, the lawsuit alleges, CMS denied New York state’s proposed plan, submitted in April of last year, to expand it’s SCHIP program, Child Health Plus, to offer discounted health insurance to children from families with incomes up to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level; an increase that would have covered additional tens of thousands of children.

“We have a strong legal claim,” said Trilby de Jung, senior health-law attorney at the Empire Justice Center and co-counsel on the case. “They have not adhered to the notice and comment regulation for rule-making in announcing the new restrictions. There’s a procedural problem with what they’ve done. That’s a hoop they have to jump through.”

The advocates also claim that the government overstepped its bounds in the first place by attempting to impede states’ ability to dictate fundamental, state-based aspects of the program such as cost- sharing, eligibility, and expansion.

The suit is similar to those filed at the beginning of October by the states of New York, Illinois, Maryland, and Washington, and a separate suit filed by New Jersey, all attempting to overturn the new regulations. Since October, President Bush has twice vetoed bills that would have allowed funding for the expansion of SCHIP and instead signed a bill that will fund the program at current enrollment levels through March of 2009.

“This is really the first time in the nation that legal action is being brought by people who are harmed by the federal action,” said Hetherington. “No child in America should be forced to go without care because their parent’s employer doesn’t provide insurance. It’s just unthinkable.”

The families all reside in New York state and are represented by the Empire Justice Center, a statewide legal-advocacy group based in Rochester, as well as the New York City-based Community Service Society, the National Health Law Program, and the Center for Medicare Advocacy. They have been asked not to speak to the media, because of the past treatment by several conservative organizations of some families in similar situations who testified in front of Congress about SCHIP.

“It was just shameful, what happened to them,” said Hetherington.

“The children involved in the suit range in age from five months to three-and-a-half years old,” said Alison Bates, Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow at the Empire Justice Center, in an e-mail. The families include a single mother from Manhattan and her little girl, a married couple from Brooklyn and their son and daughter, and an unwed, co-habitating couple and their two daughters from Gorham in Western New York. As a result of the new rules, Insurance premiums jumped from $20 a month to $196 a month in one family’s case, and from $80 a month to $355 a month in another’s.

“They are all struggling to make ends meet and get health insurance for their children,” said Bates. “Some have had to choose between basic necessities, like food and clothing, in exchange for trying to get their children to the doctor.”

To combat the alleged “$19 million dollar gap” left by the federal government’s denial of New York’s plan to expand the Child Health Plus program, Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s executive budget proposal for 2008-2009 allocated full state funding to cover the federal share. The expansion will cost New York an estimated $37 million dollars in 2008-2009, according to a Jan. 22 press release.

—Jason Chura


Power That Be

Troy city council plans to overturn Tutunjian’s first round of vetoes

 

Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian answered the Democratic city council majority’s first official salvo in the battle for power with a volley of his own, by vetoing the first three ordinances passed by the council.

“Since taking office four weeks ago,” Tutunjian wrote in an op-ed that ran in the Jan. 27 Troy Record, “the Democrat City Council Majority has blazed a trail of deception, ineptitude, and complete disregard for the laws that govern our city.”

At issue are the council’s ordinances to “correct” the pay scale for non-represented employees at City Hall, to transfer budgetary funds, and to reshape how the city handles FOIA requests.

Tutunjian went on to write that the “Council transferred budget funds without the request of my office,” to fund a pay increase for Vic DeBonis, the newly appointed assistant to the city council. “They cannot do that. That they did this to give a raise to one of their employees two days after he started is merely ironic in the grand scheme of things, as the action itself is illegal.”

Also in contention was the council’s move to reduce the salaries of non-rep employs. Tutunjian claimed that he vetoed this ordinance, as well, because it was not within the council’s power to make that budgetary correction, a fact he said “is spelled out in numerous areas of the charter.”

“They are just wrong,” Bill Dunne (D-District 5) argued of the mayor’s vetoes. “They are just wrong. Sec. C 21 of the city charter spells out the powers of the council. One of which is to appoint and set the salary of the assistant to the city council. And the second among those powers is to make appropriations, which are budget amendments. For the mayor to suggest that we can’t do anything without his approval is a joke, because then we wouldn’t be an independent branch of government.”

He went on to call Tutunjian’s vetoes “obstructionist” and the mayor’s letter to Troy Record “petty.”

“We have the ability to grind the government in Troy to a halt, if we want to do that. But we don’t want to do that, obviously,” Dunne said. “But if we want to prove a point, we can.”

The council will take a vote to on whether or not to overturn the vetoes at the next monthly council meeting; Dunne expects his Democratic majority to carry the vote.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net




Loose Ends

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