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Paper trail for votes to cost $4.3 million

PRINTERS: The county must add the devices to its machines and hopes federal funds help pay.

11:49 PM PST on Monday, February 7, 2005

By JOAN OSTERWALDER / The Press-Enterprise

Creating a paper trail for electronic voting machines will cost Riverside County a pretty penny. But at the moment no one is exactly sure where the needed funds will come from.

The county will have to pay at least $4.3 million to outfit its touch-screen voting machines with paper printouts, which must be in place by 2006, said Barbara Dunmore, registrar of voters.

The county must buy about 4,250 printers at $1,000 apiece, which will attach to the voting machines and show voters a paper copy of their ballots through a glass window, she said.

But where the money for the state-mandated upgrade will come from is unclear at the moment, said Ray Smith, county spokesman.

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill requiring paper records for electronic voting in September. Earlier, security and fraud concerns led Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to decertify touch-screen voting systems. Some machines, including the ones in Riverside County, were later allowed if equipped with a series of security measures.

Riverside County hopes the federal Help America Vote Act, which provides funds to improve the administration of elections, will cover some of the costs, Dunmore said.

The county isn't alone. Across the state, counties are grappling to comply with the new law and looking for funding, said Conny B. McCormack, president of the statewide Association of County Clerks and Election Officials and Los Angeles County registrar-recorder.

"It's an untenable situation," McCormack said.

A more immediate problem facing Riverside County is the lack of an approved printer for its voting machines.

"There isn't even a product right now that the county can buy in order to begin complying with this law," Dunmore said by phone.

Sequoia Voting Systems, an election equipment and services supplier that contracts with the county, has a printer that is going through federal testing, a process that typically takes about three months, said spokesman Alfie Charles.

The state also tests the printers, which may take another two months, Charles said. He estimated the county's printer testing would be done by the summer.

"I think it will be a fairly quick process," Charles said.

Once the printer is certified, the county Board of Supervisors must authorize its purchase and approve funds, Dunmore said. It will take another four months to manufacture the printers, and several weeks to install them and make sure they're functioning properly.

"I'm very nervous about meeting that January '06 deadline," Dunmore said.

No countywide elections are scheduled until the June 2006 primary, she said. "We can make that deadline."

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