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Proposal seeks to resolve voting-machine dilemma

By JAMES MILLER    Volusia News-Journal

November 04, 2005

DELAND Volusia County could be a step closer to resolving its voting machine problems.

At the County Council meeting Thursday, County Chairman Frank Bruno said officials had worked out a potential arrangement with a voting machine manufacturer that could preserve Volusia's use of paper ballots, while upgrading equipment for voters with disabilities in the near-term.

The idea which was not taken to a council vote involves buying touch-screen voting machines to meet state and federal accessibility requirements but replacing them with comparable paper ballot-marking devices as soon as those devices are available.

The federal government requires disabled accessibility by the first federal elections after Jan. 1. It has provided $700,000 to help pay for the mandate, but if the county doesn't have a contract for disabled-accessible equipment by Jan. 1, it will lose the money.

So far, the state has approved only touch-screen machines for disabled voters' accessibility. But many activists have opposed them because the machines don't use paper ballots.

On the other side, the National Federation of the Blind sued in federal court this summer because a divided County Council failed to meet a state deadline of July 1.

Under the idea floated Thursday, Volusia County would buy an entirely new optical-scan, paper-ballot voting system at a cost of about $2.7 million.

The county would then buy touch screens from the system's manufacturer, Election Systems & Software, on a temporary basis to comply with state and federal law. When or if an alternate, ballot-marking system is certified by the state, ES&S would take back the touch screens and apply the money paid for them to the cost of the alternate system.

Bruno said he thinks having a contract in place could also help in the court case. An appeal to a ruling that went against the National Federation of the Blind is set for hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit in Atlanta during the week of Jan. 9.

In other business Thursday, the council:

? Signed off on a plan to relocate and upgrade the Van Avenue beach approach in Daytona Beach Shores. Under the proposal from property owners Bella Brisa LLC and House by the Sea Investment, the county would abandon the 50-foot-wide Van Avenue approach right of way in favor of a larger approach 40 feet to the south.

The replacement would be 60 feet wide and include a vehicle ramp; 13 parking spaces; a sidewalk and disabled-accessible pedestrian ramp to the beach; and picnic tables.

? Agreed to provide $750,000 to match a federal grant for building a 24-bed facility in Daytona Beach for homeless people suffering from mental illness.

Serenity House, a mental health and substance abuse services provider, is expected to operate the facility, initially an Act Corp. project. Act had secured a grant from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project but withdrew, citing escalating construction costs.

Bruno had already said the county would contribute the money to save the grant. On Thursday, he got formal, unanimous backing from the council.

? Signed off on new maintenance rules for residential lots, including some in agricultural zoning classifications. The rules do such things as limit the height of grass to 12 inches and reduce the number of days for a property owner to address a county complaint from 21 to 15.

? OK'ed a joint agreement with Port Orange for purchase of 17 acres on Spruce Creek, west of South Williamson Boulevard, from The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit group that buys and holds sensitive land until government can put together the money to take over. Under the agreement, the county will provide $350,000 from the Volusia Forever land buying program for the purchase.

? Approved a one-year order for legal and planning services totaling $190,000 for the Volusia Growth Management Commission, an appointed and sometimes controversial commission that identifies conflicts between local governments' long-range growth plans.

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