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N.C. voting machine standards bill heading to Senate floor

The Associated Press     28 July 2005

A bill ordering new voting machine standards for North Carolina elections was approved Wednesday by the Senate budget-writing committee, stripped of $20 million designed to help counties pay for replacement equipment.

The measure, developed after a Carteret County voting machine lost 4,438 votes in last November's election, would allow for only three voting systems: optical scan ballot machines, electronic recording machines or paper ballots counted by hand.

About $53 million in federal and state election grants now are earmarked for those machine purchases. Some legislators are worried that county governments will have to foot part of the cost to meet a state mandate to purchase new equipment.

State elections officials earlier estimated it would cost roughly $70 million to ensure machines upgrades statewide to meet federal and state standards.

"What assurances do the counties have through this bill that they're not going to be put in that positions?" asked Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

"We've got $53 million. It's a whole lot more than we've had before," responded Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland. "So I think we've got every thing in place to do this and do it right, and make sure people of North Carolina have some faith in the elections."

A federal elections panel has yet to finalize its own voting machine standards that North Carolina and other states are will follow.

It's still not exactly clear how many machine upgrades will be necessary since some counties will meet the standards with their current equipment, said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, a primary sponsor of the bill.

The budget bill now under negotiation will include a provision that lays out how the $53 million will be distributed, said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg.

The voting machine measure, which is expected to go to the Senate floor Thursday, would require and electronic machine purchases to generate a paper record of a vote that is "viewable by the voter before the vote is cast electronically" so that the voter can correct any error.

The bill also would allow the State Board of Elections to experiment during the 2006 elections with alternatives to a paper record of a ballot. That may include audio playbacks of a voter's choice or a photographic image of an electronic ballot.

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