Voting machine cost an issue

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The county’s new voting machines may cost about $180,000, but according to Probate Judge John Jones, the 30 new machines required by federal law will help visually impaired and other disabled voters be counted.

About two years ago, Jones said, Congress passed HAVA- the Help Americans Vote Act.

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Part of that act requires that polling places – all polling places – have a voting machine for disabled voters.

Jones said that the county would require 30 machines – one for each polling place – at about $6,000 per machine.

The Dallas County Commission is primarily concerned about the cost. The $180,000 required is a large portion of Dallas County’s General Fund Budget, which totals $8 million. Most of that $8 million was allocated during the budget process completed in October 2005.

While Jones said he was sure the federal government would reimburse the county – through the Secretary of State’s office – he’s not sure how much.

“I think we will get reimbursed something,” he said.

In fact, the cost is the only reason the issue is being discussed. HAVA mandates that the order for the machine must be placed by Feb. 1, and the machines must be ready for use by the June primaries.

At Monday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Roy Moore asked about a possible lease plan on the machines.

“I was hoping we might rent to own,” Moore said, half-jokingly.

The machines will be purchased through Election Systems and Software, a company based in Birmingham.

Jones said the company has proved reliable through several tough elections he’s overseen during his tenure as chief election officer in Dallas County.

In order to offset the cost, the commission is considering whether or not to combine about four to six polling places, thereby reducing the machines needed.

In order to do that, the commission must get their plan approved by the U.S. Justice Department.

Jones said that begs a question.

“Is it really worth it,” he said. “We’ve voted at these places for years and years and years.”

Commissioners have called a special meeting on Tuesday at 10 a.m. to discuss the new voting machines. The meeting is open to the public.