01/12/06 — Duplin voting machine cost might be lower

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Duplin voting machine cost might be lower

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 12, 2006 1:52 PM

KENANSVILLE -- New voting machines might cost less than Duplin County officials had anticipated in this year's budget -- if the federal government comes through with some money.

The county's budget contains $77,500 for the purchase of voting machines required by state and federal officials before the May primary. The county Board of Elections is expected to recommend a new voting system to county commissioners next week.

Elections officials estimate the cost of 25 new optical-scan balloting machines, 21 machines for handicapped voters and support equipment at $322,000.

The state has already given the county $60,000 for the machines, and the federal government is expected to provide $245,000.

The state money is in hand, said Elections Supervisor Suzanne Southerland, but Duplin officials are still waiting for the federal grant to arrive. Until then, the county is short by about $184,500, she said.

Elections Board Chairman Albert Brown emphasized that the estimated cost of the machines is still just an estimate. Election officials are working to come up with a better estimate before meeting with commissioners on Tuesday, he said.

Ms. Southerland said she plans talk to the company the state has approved to sell voting machines one more time to ensure that nothing had been left out of the estimate.

Elections Board officials said they will ask the commissioners for permission to begin negotiating with the company for an exact purchase price.

They said they believe the choice of machines is a good one. The optical scan system costs much less than another type of machine considered, the direct-record electronics type, which would allow voters to touch a computer screen to mark their ballots. With the optical scan system, voters mark a ballot that is then read by a tabulator.

"I think the county commissioners will be elated when they see we're saving $100,000 by going with the optical scan rather than the DRE," Ms. Southerland said.

She said the direct-records electronic system requires one machine for every 250 voters, which would require Duplin to buy 115 touch screen machines for its 26,000 registered voters. She said the optical scan method calls for only one scanner at each of the 19 precincts and the two one-stop voting locations, with another unit in reserve.

The state ordered almost every county to upgrade their voting systems after discrepancies in ballot tabulation showed up in races in several counties in 2004. Counties must have the new machines in place and have poll workers trained in their use before one-stop voting begins in April.