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Third of voting system loans OK?d

Most applications, including Kanawha County?s, need corrections

By Phil Kabler    Charleston Gazette   02 November 2005

Acting as loan officers Tuesday, the state Election Commission approved only six of 18 applications from counties for loans to upgrade their voting systems.

The other 12 applications ? including a request from the Kanawha County Commission for $930,515 in loans ? will be sent back to correct problems. Most of those counties failed to sufficiently explain how they would pay their part of the voting machine bill, or how they would repay the state?s loan.

Under the federal Help America Vote Act, the commission has $5 million available in a revolving loan fund to help counties replace punch-card and lever voting systems, or to otherwise upgrade voting machines.
Election Commission members decided Tuesday that counties need to provide more specific funding explanations than some did on the loan applications. In some cases, the applications simply said that ?county funds? would be used to fund the 50 percent match for the loans.

?I think they need to be more specific than to say, ?Wood County will come up with 50 percent,?? Secretary of State Betty Ireland told the commission. ?The basis of this is you?ve got to make sure they attest that they have this money.?

The commission approved $904,000 of loans Tuesday, out of the total of $2.9 million in loan requests.

That included a $265,669 loan to Cabell County, after commissioners agreed to waive the matching fund requirement under the state election law, citing a financial hardship clause.

Ireland said Cabell County ? which was the first county to install electronic touch-screen voting in 2000 ? still owes $214,000 on those machines.

However, those older machines are out of compliance with requirements in the state election law passed earlier this year, which requires electronic voting machines to produce a paper printout of each ballot cast.

?They?re telling us they don?t have the money to come up with their half,? Ireland said of the Cabell County Commission?s request for a hardship waiver. ?They?re actually paying off the old machines at $7,000 a month.?

Election commissioners plan to meet later this month to take up the corrected applications.

Under the federal law, the state is facing a Jan. 1 deadline to have at least one machine in each of the state?s 1,965 precincts that vision-impaired and disabled voters can use without assistance.

Ireland said the intent is to be able to place orders for machines requested by the 18 counties seeking matching loans at the same time the 1,965 machines are ordered, probably by the end of the month.
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Other loans approved Tuesday were: Marshall County, $123,144; Mason County, $38,249; Mercer County, $54,874; Ohio County, $104,000; and Raleigh County, $318,037.

In addition to Kanawha County, loan applications that need to be revised were submitted by Brooke, Greenbrier, Hancock, Jackson, Logan, Mingo, Monongalia, Preston, Randolph, Wayne and Wood counties.

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