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Corruption Chronicles

Election Violations Go Unpunished

The crucial midterm elections are only days away but the Department of Justice refuses to penalize states that continue to violate a federal law that requires upgrading outdated and mistake-prone voting systems.

That means that states – such as New York and Connecticut–with numerous competitive elections that could help determine which party controls Congress, will still utilize old lever ballot machines notorious for their high error rate.

Those well-documented problems are precisely why lawmakers passed legislation in 2002 to modernize the important equipment. The Help America Vote Act requires that all voting systems used in federal elections must meet specific federal requirements by January 2006. Among them is that all systems permit the voter to verify the votes selected on the ballot before the ballot is cast and counted. Electronic machines, used in many states, comply with the mandate by providing a final summary screen before the voter asks the machine to officially record the vote.

But many states have yet to obtain new machines and therefore rely on the outdated ones. The Department of Justice has sued four states (Alabama, Maine, New Jersey and New York) for noncompliance, but none have been punished or held in contempt. This week officials at the agency, whose mission is to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States, said they will not penalize states that fail to upgrade voting machines by next week’s election.

Election watchdog groups across the country have questioned the federal government’s commitment to enforcing the Help America Vote Act and one group believes that, at this late point, any attempt to get a completely new voting system up and running would certainly result in electoral chaos and Election Day train wreck.


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