04/24/05 — Bartlett tells Duplin waiting on new voting machines wise

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Bartlett tells Duplin waiting on new voting machines wise

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 24, 2005 2:00 AM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County officials were wise not to rush out and buy new voting machines until new federal standards are in place, says the executive director of the state Board of Elections.

Gary Bartlett told members of the county Board of Elections on Thursday that officials need to know more about the new standards before committing money to new machinery. Bartlett is traveling around the state, explaining developments in election procedure.

Duplin is one of five counties in the state that still use the punch-card system.

County commissioners set aside $60,000 to buy machines this year but the money was not spent, said Suzanne Southerland, the director of the county Board of Elections. County officials are considering earmarking $70,000 in the next budget to pay for new machines, she said, but a final decision about how much money will spent will be made by county commissioners when they approve a budget in June.

Federal law written in the wake of the Florida election brouhaha in 2000 requires states to upgrade their methods of casting ballots by the 2006 elections. But the new federal standards are not yet in place, Bartlett said.

Bartlett said he expects the standards to be made final by the end of the year. After the guidelines are published, he said, the state board will solicit proposals from companies that build voting machines. The state will certify vendors whose machines meet the guidelines and every county in the state that wants to buy a specific type of machine will be able to get them for the same price, he said.

"It's better to have limited competition," said Bartlett. "You will have choices, but at this time, I don't know how many choices."

Bartlett said many counties in North Carolina are using outdated voting equipment.

"The biggest problem in North Carolina is age," he said. "Some of the machines are almost as old as I am. There are lever machines that are older than I am."

Jimmy Sauls, a member of the Duplin Board of Elections, said that if the federal and state governments order local governments to buy new voting machines that they should help pay for them.

If the entire state were to buy new machines, it could cost as much as $80 million, Bartlett said. The state Board of Elections has earmarked $50 million for the proposed machines, he noted. Most of that is federal money, he said.

Bartlett said state officials want to buy the machines that best fit North Carolina's needs but that he wants to be sure the systems considered are proven.