The Morning Call
December 26, 2005
U.S. wants county to fund half of $1.2 million. So far, the
answer is no.
By Matt Birkbeck
Of The Morning Call
It was a year ago when the Monroe County commissioners drew
a line in the sand and announced they would not allocate county funds to help
pay for new voting machines mandated by the Help America Vote Act.
Last week the commissioners made good on their promise,
approving a $75 million county budget for 2006 but deciding against raising
taxes to pay the estimated $600,000 to cover their share of the $1.2 million
needed to replace 120 lever voting machines.
''We've budgeted no county money and we're not kicking in
any cash,'' said Commissioner Chairwoman Donna Asure. ''We are looking at
meeting the HAVA requirements by any other means other than costing local
With a Jan. 1 deadline days away and no local funds in
place, the commissioners know they are treading on dangerous ground, opening
themselves up to a fight with the federal government. It is the only county in
Pennsylvania to refuse to use local funding to pay for voting machines.
The Justice Department warned the commissioners a year ago
that they ''must obey the law'' and could face a lawsuit if they don't comply.
But the commissioners remain as undaunted today as they did
then, firmly resolved against paying for what they say is an unfunded mandate.
''We are trying to follow the regulations without raising
taxes or breaking the law, and we know it will be a challenge,'' Asure said.
Passed by Congress in 2002 to modernize voting machines and
avoid vote-counting errors, the act authorized $3.2 billion from the federal
government to distribute among the 50 states to meet the mandate.
Pennsylvania's Department of State received $53 million to
split among its 67 counties, which amounts to roughly $8,000 per voting
Some counties, such as Carbon, received enough money to pay
the entire cost for new machines while others, such as Bucks, will have to
spend millions in county funds.
''We had problems with the legislation and discussed it with
everyone from the governor on down, and it was apparent to us that we had to
comply with it,'' Bucks County Commissioner Charles H. Martin said.
Martin said it could cost Bucks as much as $7 million to
replace its lever voting machines, and the money will come from a bond issue.
''We were happy as clams with our lever machines, which did
a good job,'' Martin said. ''But acting on the advice of our attorneys, we
didn't fight this and risk the $3.1 million we're getting in HAVA funds, so
whatever we are doing we are doing reluctantly.''
The Monroe commissioners passed a resolution Wednesday to
spend their $600,000 in HAVA funding, but they are looking at options other
than buying new voting machines.
Among the solutions being mulled is leasing, Asure said.
''It's an option,'' Asure said. ''We're certainly trying to
Brian McDonald, a spokesman for the state Department of
State, said it doesn't matter how Monroe or any other county replaces its
voting machines, as long as they have a HAVA-compliant system in place for the
''Whatever method they want to use to get the machines is
fine,'' McDonald said.
But McDonald cautioned that the HAVA money is a one-time
grant, and if the county spends its money on a lease, then it will have to pay
the entire cost of buying machines or a new lease.
''There will be no additional funding available. It's a
one-time supply of funds,'' McDonald said.
Asure said she will support any plan that doesn't call for
spending county funds, leasing or otherwise, and also took issue with other
elected officials for failing to take as strong a stand.
''Unfortunately there are a lot of elected officials that
will scream for unfunded mandates but not stand up,'' Asure said. ''I'm
extremely disappointed that more elected officials have not hollered about how
much money this is costing local taxpayers.''
Copyright © 2005, The Morning Call
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