By John Hilton, September 04, 2005
Progress on finalizing new voting systems is slow going as counties across the country get closer to the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
However, local officials are not worried ... yet.
After the Florida recount battle in the 2000 presidential election, Congress passed HAVA in 2002 and budgeted nearly $3.4 billion for states to comply with new regulations by 2006.
The federal guidelines outlaw lever voting machines and punch card machines. The latter is used in Perry County, while Cumberland uses the optical scan system, which is an approved system under the new law.
That means Perry County officials must purchase a new voting system for its 32 voting precincts. In addition, both counties must provide handicapped accessible machines and have the capability to instantly check for "overvotes" or "undervotes" to be in compliance.
New machines needed
In Cumberland, that means two new machines for each of its 98 voting precincts — even in the tiny Cooke Township precinct that is home to a few dozen voters. Jerry Wilkes, director of technology and information for Cumberland County, pegs the cost of the machines at roughly $5,000 each.
The former machines will allow those with disabilities to vote on their own, including those who are visually and hearing impaired. There has to be at least one machine per precinct that is handicapped accessible.
Disabled voters currently vote with assistance from friends, family members and staff.
Before the money can be released, the state must certify and approve a list of vendors willing to provide new voting machines to the counties.
So far, State Department spokesman Brian McDonald says one voting system has been approved and one denied.
The department has 10 different systems remaining to assess, he adds, a process that will be completed over the next several weeks.
Cumberland County has been approved for a $1 million grant to help defray its costs.
"That doesn't cover all of the HAVA costs for 2006," Wilkes says, "but it covers 90 percent of it." The more than 600 pollworkers in Cumberland will require extensive retraining, county officials say an advertising campaign to educate the public on the voting changes is needed.
The 2006 election cycle includes races for Pennsylvania governor and U.S. senator.
Once the new regulations take effect, Cumberland will no longer count votes at the election bureau. Votes will be scanned at each precinct and transferred to a disk.
"My sense is a lot of this is going to go down to the wire," Wilkes says of the deadline.
2005 The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.
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