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Electronic voting machines prompt discussion

By Mary Madewell
The Paris News

Published October 12, 2004

Lamar County commissioners put on hold a decision to purchase electronic voting machines required by federal law beginning in January 2006.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires one direct recording electronic machine at each of the county’s 32 polling places. Cost of a machine is expected to range between $3,000 and $5,000.

“It is my understanding the machines are primarily for the disabled voter, but anyone could ask to use one,” County Clerk Kathy Marlowe said following Commissioners Court meeting Monday.

The state of Texas is expected to refund the county up to $99,000 after the machines have been purchased with $47,598.25 allocated for training election judges in the use of the machines and up to $7,000 to the county in voter education campaigns.

Marlowe said the use of the machines will not affect how Lamar County conducts elections.

“We will still be doing our election as everyone knows them today,” Marlowe said of paper ballots that are counted electronically. “Our system has worked well.”

Direct recording electronic machines are equipped with headphones and an auditory component that announces ballot choices, which allows sight-impaired voters to verify and cast their ballots.

“I know it is going to take a lot of training in the use of these machines,” Marlowe said. According to law, voters using the machines are to be instructed in the machine’s use to the point they can cast a ballot without assistance and in complete privacy.

Marlowe recommended the county request several vendors to give demonstrations of available machines before the county goes out for bids.

The machines may be placed on a state bid list, which might bring costs down and simplify purchasing, Marlowe said.

“We are 14 months away from the compliance date,” County Judge Chuck Superville said. “I don’t think we have to do this today.”

Superville referred to a reimbursement grant application with an Aug. 31, 2006 deadline.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 came on the heels of the controversial 2000 presidential election in an effort to reform the county’s voting practices.

Congress authorized funds but placed the burden of reform implementation on state legislators and local election officials.

Each state has an implementation plan to guarantee equal accessibility to both the registration process and the polling place and to educate the public so that voter intent is clear and that every vote is counted.

In applying for state reimbursement, counties, in turn, must have plans in place to guarantee equal accessibility and voter training.

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