NEW VOTING SYSTEM BRINGS NEW COSTS TO COUNTY
07-11-10 - 3:15 a.m. - Columbia County officials are finding it is expensive to comply with the state’s new voting mandates.
The Board of Supervisors is expected this week to take up a two-year budget transfer of $165,000 to cover the costs of implementing the optical scanners (computerized voting machines) for the upcoming elections. If approved, $81,000 for this year and $84,000 for 2011 will be transferred from Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds collected from county taxpayers several years ago in anticipation of complying with the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Virginia Martin, Democratic Commissioner of Elections, told ccSCOOP that the funds will be used for additional personnel costs—to increase to full-time the status of the county’s HAVA specialists and to hire two part-time clerks in the months prior to the November elections. Martin also said the funds are needed to cover the purchase of ballot machine paper, training, maintenance of the new machines, and other related costs. According to figures provided by Martin, paper ballot printing costs are expected to double to $59,600 (the new law requires every ballot to be printed). The increased personnel costs are the direct result of implementing the new voting system this year, Martin said, which requires more time be spent on everything, including counting the ballots and securing the machines on Election Day, as well as preparing for the vote.
Not All Approved
The Board of Elections had sought even more funds to implement the new election procedures, but the Board of Supervisors Budget and Salary Committee rejected requests to increase the salaries of the commissioners to reflect the increased workload and delayed hiring the part-time clerks by a month. Among the new duties for the commissioners, which the increased pay would have recognized, are the “overseeing [of] poll-worker training in continually changing regulatory environment” and fulfilling the new mandate to “develop, create and reconfigure syllabus, materials, etc.” for the county’s staff of 232 inspectors, 22 poll site specialists, 58 custodians, and others. In addition to these duties, Martin said that increased public outreach will be needed, including explaining and assuring to the public the “fairness, security and accuracy of the process,” response to incidents, and voter education about the new system.
The fact that implementing the system will be costly is not a surprise to the county. In Maryland, which switched to touch-screen voting machines ten years ago, county costs jumped an average of 179 percent per voter, even though the state now pays half the cost of the voting equipment, according to saveourvotes.org.
Martin said the HAVA funds have gone largely untouched since they were received from the federal government “with the expectation that at some point we would need it—which we now do.” She noted that the county is already in compliance with HAVA and that the funds are actually being used to bring the county into compliance with the Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005, which is state legislation. Doing away with the lever voting machines is not part of the HAVA requirements, but is a part of ERMA, which mandates that computers tally the votes, Martin said.