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Commissioners tackle voting machine concerns
By Christopher T. Edwards    Doylestown Patriot   07/28/2005
 When Congress passed the Helping Americans Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, the intent was to create a system of uniform procedure at the polls.

Instead, the law has generated an uneasiness that some local residents describe as "paranoia."
During the July 20 Bucks County commissioners meeting at Nockamixon Township's bucolic, 124-acre Bucks County Horse Park, the federal mandate to replace lever voting machines by January 2006 occupied center stage.
A group of approximately 20 activists affiliated with the Coalition for Voting Integrity drew attention to their cause with a cardboard ballot box prop, placards urging politicians to "say no to touch screen machines," and a large white banner affixed to the indoor pavilion where the meeting was held.
The wafting smoke from the nearby hot dog and hamburger grills did little to satiate them.
Indeed, their strength of presence was particularly impressive given the 90-degree temperatures that added sizzle to the cause. It was the perfect setting to become a bit hot under the collar.
According to commissioners Charles Martin, Sandra Miller and James Cawley, however, the issue is primarily a state matter rather than a county one.
"What we are waiting for is clear guidance from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," explained Cawley, who donned blue jeans for the meeting and was a willing afternoon participant on the horse farm's trails in his personal version of blazing saddles.
In order to maximize that guidance potential, the commissioners have met recent deadlines that make Bucks County eligible for funding to replace lever voting machines that are not compliant with HAVA.
"If you don't apply for the money in a timely way, you're not going to get it," Martin said.
County chief operating officer David Sanko underscored the importance of meeting the deadlines, adding that it could wind up costing taxpayers $3-4 million if the issue became embroiled in litigation.
"We don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater," Sanko said, urging members of the Coalition for Voting Integrity to take a wait-and-see approach to the polling changes.
County officials face a Sept. 30 deadline to report to the state what voting machine(s) they intend to purchase.
Of particular concern to Sanko, county solicitor Guy Matthews and the commissioners is the coalition's "HAVA Knot Initiative."
"This law has everyone tied up in a knot," said Richboro's Mary Ann Gould, the meeting's final and most impassioned speaker.
"It is a badly written law. We urge the county to take the money and use it for handicapped access."
Added Gould, "To remove the right to vote is to make man a slave."
Cawley provided a voice of reason throughout the meeting, offering to support the local group in an effort to voice its concerns to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortes.
"Let's go," Cawley said, turning two thumbs up for that endeavor.
The coalition's voter integrity issues center upon the current electronic and scanning certification processes for machines that are HAVA compliant. According to Sanko, the state has received 13 of 17 vendor bids and is in the process of evaluating them on three levels.
"The guiding principles are to make sure the machines are above fraud reproach to provide a good count, to ensure that they are user friendly and, thirdly, their cost," Sanko said.
Although the county's existing lever machines will be used this November, the impact of HAVA should have major ramifications during the fall of 2006.
The days of signing the voting log, pulling the curtain closed and hearing that familiar cash register sound could be drawing to a close.
Coalition members are seeking a congressional waiver that would allow counties to continue using their lever machines, which have been in service since the Presidential administration of Dwight Eisenhower.
While the voting machine issue promises to remain a focal point of county business, the well-attended meeting included several matters that had nothing to do with HAVA.

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