Senator John J. Flanagan (2nd Senate District), Chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, announced today that legislation that would protect the rights of voters with disabilities and reduce county election costs has passed the Senate. Senator Flanagan sponsored the two pieces of legislation to ensure that New York State offers all voters greater access without overburdening the taxpayers.
"If funding is needed to ensure access for voters with disabilities, then New York State has an obligation to make that funding available to protect the rights of every voter. There should be no barrier, especially bureaucratic, that infringes on any New Yorker's right to vote," stated Senator Flanagan.
The first piece of legislation calls for $10 million in new funding for counties to provide greater access for voters with disabilities. This funding, which will be available to all counties based on their voting population, will allow localities to purchase and implement accessible machines for use this fall.
This $10 million in funding would relieve the financial burden that the purchase of these machines would place on the counties and provide additional funding needed to equip polling sites with at least one accessible machine. The funding which Senator Flanagan's legislation would provide will enable the counties to do more this year and to provide greater access for all voters.
The Senate also passed legislation sponsored by Senator Flanagan that would provide $7.7 million to cover county costs for complying with the provisions of HAVA (Help America Vote Act). Under federal HAVA requirements, states must appropriate 5% in matching funds to secure federal funding needed to implement new voting guidelines and this state funding would ensure that the counties are protected from this cost.
By funding this cost through state funding, Senator Flanagan's legislation would allow local taxpayers to avoid covering this 5% match.
Both pieces of legislation, which are strongly supported by the New York State Association of Counties, were sent to the Assembly for action.
This legislation continues Senator Flanagan's efforts to provide equal access for all New York voters. During this year's budget negotiations, Senator Flanagan secured $5 million to improve poll site accessibility for everyone. This allocation will help fund needed improvements at poll sites across New York State.
The funding, which Senator Flanagan originally had placed in the Senate's budget, will be dedicated to making necessary improvements to polling places throughout the state. This would include widening existing doorways, adding ramps, improving parking access and spaces and other features that will provide voters with disabilities access to the polls.
Under the agreement, the $5 million will be shared by local election boards and will be distributed according to the formula currently used to distribute the funding for purchasing new voting machines. This will allow the local boards to remain flexible in their utilization of state money and allow them to implement the modernization of their polling places.
"The buildings that are used as polling places must be fully accessible to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to vote. That is my position, that is the position of the Independent Living advocates and that is the position of the Justice Department. New voting machines are an improvement only if all voters are able to enter the building to use them," concluded Senator Flanagan.
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