01/16/06 — Officials to finalize new voting machines

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Officials to finalize new voting machines

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on January 16, 2006 1:50 PM

Wayne County's commissioners will pick voting machines for the county and determine how much to set aside to pay for them at the board's meeting Tuesday.

Last year, the General Assembly approved legislation requiring each county's Board of Elections to use voting equipment that would produce a paper trail allowing voters and officials to verify the ballots.

This legislation has required nearly all of North Carolina's 100 counties to replace their voting equipment, Wayne County elections director Gary Sims said.

The order will not interfere with the county's ability to hold an election, however, Sims said.

"The good news is we are going to make it work no matter what we have, and we are going to do it better than anyone else in the state," he said.

Federal requirements are also included with the state statutes governing the choice of the new equipment. Under the Help America Vote Act, Wayne County is obligated to purchase voting machines that provide assistance to the visually impaired, illiterate and other handicapped voters. Although the state does not have additional grants to help purchase the machines, the federal government will provide money for the equipment.

Funding from the Help America Vote Act election fund is based on the formula of $12,000 for each of the county's 30 precincts, $12,000 per one-stop sites and the price of two backup units. The formula also includes $1 for each voter who cast a ballot in the 2004 presidential election. If the total for each tabulator is between $10,000 and $100,000, the grant will be issued, Sims said.

The federal grants total about $437,000. However, Sims said the county would need to come up with the additional $100,000 to settle the bill for the machines. Officials say they realize the urgency of allocating the money.

"It's not budgeted," County Manager Lee Smith said. "We had actually put in our capital improvement plan in two years to replace (voting) machines at a cost of $950,000, and we may have to do that. But this has been thrown at us after July 1, so it's not budgeted. The Board of Commissioners will have to go into reserves or into county savings if that is what they choose to do."

During Tuesday's meeting, Sims said he detail the machines the Board of Elections is reccommending and how much they will cost.

Last week, the Board of Elections held a public forum asking residents for their input on the decision. Tom Janyssek, a regional sales manager for New Bern-based Printelect, presented two voting machines on behalf of Election Systems & Software. The company is the only vendor authorized by the state to sell election equipment to the counties.

The first machine presented was the M-100 precinct ballot counter. The M-100 complies with state regulations because the machine can produce a paper ballot and report counts by precinct, Janyssek said.

The other machine was the AutoMARK voter assist terminal. The AutoMARK is equipped with audio functions to assist blind voters, a sip/puff tube for paraplegics and a zoom feature for the visually impaired.

According to state regulations, a decision on voting equipment must be made by Friday. After a selection has been made, ES&S will have 30 days to produce the machines, Sims said. Then, precinct judges and election officials will need to learn how to use the new equipment before one-stop early voting begins on April 13 for the May primary.

"The county commissioners endure scrutiny on how county money is spent, but these state regulations make a new mandate on them to spend the money. We need something that works. If they break on Election Day, we break," Sims said.