Bucks at the ballot box

New federal voting mandates could cost county $140,000

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Federal mandates requiring counties to upgrade voting machines at local precincts could cost Moffat County $140,000.

In a meeting this week, Moffat County Clerk and Recorder Elaine Sullivan and Chief Deputy of Moffat County Elections Lila Herod broke the news to the county commissioners.

"We are looking at a huge amount of money," Sullivan told the commissioners. "And this has to be done no later than 2006."

Legislation passed in October 2002 dictates that every voting precinct must have direct recording electronic (DRE) voting systems -- basically, a computer touch screen that people can vote on if they choose.

The machines are estimated to cost between $3,000 and $5,000.

But the systems also must have additional features, including software that allows individuals with disabilities the accessibility to vote independently and privately.

These additional features could cost in the realm of $5,000, bringing the total to approximately $10,000 per machine, per precinct.

With 13 voting precincts in Moffat County, including a precinct at the Moffat County Courthouse for early and absentee voting, the total cost of placing one machine in each precinct could set the county back $140,000.

But the county doesn't have much choice in the matter.

"By federal law, we have to have a DRE at every precinct," Herod said.

"We have to get it," Sullivan said. "There's no ifs, whens or buts."

The new system has to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2006, which means the systems would probably have to be purchased and installed sometime in 2005.

The upgrades required are part of a federal mandate that will require states to create a single uniformed statewide voter registration system.

Moffat County Director of Administrative Services Debra Murray, who attended the meeting, said the county would have to start budgeting for next year to finance the equipment purchases.

While the county has not seen any money from the federal government for the purchases yet, it still could.

Congress has authorized more than $2 billion nationwide for the equipment.

The money will be distributed to the Secretary of State's office at its discretion.

Herod said that $5 million already has been appropriated to Colorado, but thought that money would be spent on a statewide voter registration system, consultants, staff and educational purposes.

"I don't expect the counties to receive any of this money," she said.

About $325 million of the $2 billion appropriated nationwide has been set aside for states and counties that must replace lever machines and punch card voting systems, something that does not apply to Moffat County.

Herod said the county could get $4,000 per precinct for the new equipment, but that is not a guarantee.

She said it is not known when, or if, the county will get funding for the machines.

"There are many questions and decisions that must be made," Herod said in a letter to the Moffat County commissioners. "But regardless we are faced with budget issues now in order to comply with these federal mandates."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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