New York Daily News EDITORIAL
Wednesday, December 26th 2007, 4:00 AM
A U.S. judge is threatening to throw New York State Board of Elections officials into jail for failing to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, the law that was supposed to prevent a rerun of the Bush-Gore debacle in Florida. Simply on principle we say, go for it, your honor.
The board is criminally incompetent, and its masters in the Legislature behave with contempt toward virtually anyone who hasn't written a campaign check. Such is a truth that dawned on Albany Federal Judge Gary Sharpe.
"Why is it that New York thinks it can thumb its nose at the federal government?" Sharpe asked last week, a question for which the only answer is: "Because that's how Albany works."
Even so, it should soon also dawn on Sharpe that the Justice Department has presented him with a turkey of a lawsuit. In asking Sharpe to order the board to meet HAVA standards, department lawyers are petitioning him to command the impossible.
The act is both unworkable and a danger to the democratic process. It directs states to run elections using electronic voting machines - none of which work flawlessly and all of which can be subverted by hackers.
While New York bumbled along with secure, accurate, old-fashioned lever machines, states across the country labored to comply with HAVA, only to plunge into nightmares.
Most recently, a report from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner concluded that the state's fancy, newly purchased electronic touch-screen voting devices were susceptible to failure and manipulation.
Brunner said, "the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet with a digital assistant."
Colorado decertified the same machines over a 1% error rate - enough to swing a close election.
Which leaves New York to either defy Sharpe or spend huge amounts on technology that could compromise elections. And to start with thousands of machines for the disabled, a population that amounts to a relative handful of votes.
In addition to floating the possibility of jail, Sharpe announced that he might order the appointment of a special master - call it an election czar - to take over the panel's job. He mused about naming Gov. Spitzer.
That would be fine with us, too. Provided Sharpe recognizes that, no matter how incompetent and arrogant they get in Albany, he doesn't have the power to mandate the impossible.
HAVA was intended to provide voters with reliable, tamper-proof electronic machines. But, as of yet, no one has figured out how to build one.
And so another grand plan is dead. This time, it is the refurbishment and expansion of the Javits Convention Center, a leaky, out-of-date exhibition hall that is an embarrassment to New York. Javits is so decrepit that during rain, it is fitted with giant "diapers" that hang from the ceiling to keep water off the patrons.
The place fell into ruin on the watch of Gov. George Pataki and his economic development chief, Charles Gargano, who said they could fix it up and double its size for $1.8 billion. Gov. Spitzer's development chief, Pat Foye, says the true cost would be $5 billion.
Other options? Spend $850 million on repairs. The leaks would be fixed and the diapers would be retired. Then, possibly, plow another $800 million into a "modest" expansion, which may or may not be worth the cost.
So much for attracting the biggest conventions and trade shows. This is not what city hoteliers wanted when they accepted a $1.50-per-night tax on guests to build a center fit for such events. Boy, did they get taken to the cleaners.
UN watchdog put down
Here's a question: What to do when you're the United Nations and you set up a hot-shot investigations unit, and the unit starts uncovering hundreds of millions of dollars worth of UN fraud and UN corruption and utterly brazen UN banditry?
Answer: You put the unit out of business as fast as you possibly can.
And so much for the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which, having blown the lid off a good many shady transactions, is fixing to die - thanks to General Assembly members who are declining to fund it further.
This office was created two years ago as an outgrowth of the probe into the Iraq oil-for-food scandal. Since then, its sleuths have burrowed into UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Congo and elsewhere. They've come up with evidence that UN procurement officials have helped themselves to whatever can be glommed up - Mercedes-Benzes, things like that - in return for contract awards.
So far, more than $600 million in unclean contracts have been documented, with maybe another billion's worth still to be examined.
But apparently they won't be. Led by Singapore, a bloc of developing nations is most indignant that the office chooses to be so scrupulous. End of story. The task force, it seems, will be out of business shortly. Business as usual at the UN. Corrupt business.
The New York TImes EDITORIAL
The Work Remaining
December 26, 2007
It has been nearly a year since the United States attorneys scandal broke, and much has changed. Many people at the center of the scandal have fled Washington, and new laws and rules have been put in place making it harder to use prosecutors’ offices to win elections. Much, however, remains to be done, starting with a full investigation into the misconduct that may have occurred — something the American people have been denied.
The primary responsibility for giving the public the final answers about what happened, and assurances that it will not happen again, lies with Attorney General Michael Mukasey, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Over the course of the year, considerable evidence emerged that the Bush administration did what seemed unthinkable: it used federal prosecutors, who are supposed to be scrupulously nonpartisan, to help the Republican Party win elections. As many as nine United States attorneys were fired, apparently because they brought cases against powerful Republicans or refused to bring cases that would hurt Democrats.
When the scandal broke, important players either refused to testify before Congress — like Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel, and Karl Rove, the presidential adviser — or professed ignorance. Then these officials began to slink away. The list of people connected to the scandal who resigned their jobs includes Ms. Miers; Mr. Rove; Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s White House liaison; and Mr. Gonzales himself.
Reforms were instituted. Congress passed a law taking back the power it had unwisely given the president to appoint United States attorneys without Senate confirmation. That should make it harder for future presidents to put political operatives in these sensitive posts. More recently, Attorney General Mukasey issued new guidelines restricting contacts between the Justice Department and the White House, which appears to have been the conduit for the orders to politicize prosecutions.
These changes are important, but are not enough. Congress must hear from all of the major participants. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, and Ms. Miers in contempt for ignoring Congressional subpoenas. The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to do the same for Mr. Bolten and Mr. Rove. The full House and Senate should affirm those votes and refer the witnesses for prosecution if they still will not cooperate.
The attorney general also must do more. There is evidence of impropriety in several recent prosecutions, including that of Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama who is serving a lengthy prison sentence. Mr. Mukasey needs to investigate Mr. Siegelman’s case and others that have been called into question to ensure that no one was wrongly put in jail by his department, and that anyone who acted improperly is held accountable.
The integrity of the Justice Department is precious. The fair application of the law is the cornerstone of American justice and American democracy. A halfway resolution of this scandal is not enough. It needs to be investigated vigorously and completely.