Supervisors OK buying new voting machines

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 6, 2005

County supervisors made progress Monday in meeting federaldeadlines to change voting procedures.

The board approved the purchase of 32 touch-screen votingmachines at a total cost of approximately $105,000, said CountyAdministrator David Fields. In addition to the 68 voting machinesbeing paid for by federal and state funds, the purchase will givethe county an even 100 machines.

“The high end will be about $3,300 each, or $105,600 total. Itmay be less,” Fields said.

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Each machine will cost the county between $2,905 to $3,291,Fields said, citing figures supplied by the Secretary of State’soffice.

The memo from that office did not say how many had to bepurchased to qualify for the lower figure. At $2,905 each, thetotal cost to the county would be $92,960.

Supervisors this summer agreed to enter into an agreementnegotiated by Secretary of State Eric Clark with Diebold ElectionSystems for electronic touch-screen machines. The machines can beused by people in wheelchairs and are equipped with audioinstructions and headphones for blind people to vote withoutassistance.

Under the agreement, the federal government is paying for 95percent and the state is paying 5 percent of the tab for eachcounty to get one machine per 190 registered voters. The formulaprovides for 68 machines for Lincoln County.

However, because of the number of voting precincts in the countyand other factors, local officials believe the number of machinesprovided under the agreement would not meet their needs.

Election commissioners and Circuit Court Clerk Terry LynnWatkins met with the board Monday to decide how many additionalmachines would be necessary. The board followed theirrecommendations to purchase more machines, said Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop.

Counties have until January 1 to comply with federal regulationsrequiring the switch to the touch-screen machines in an effort toeliminate some of the problems that caused major problems inFlorida during the 2000 presidential election.

Counties also have until January to meet federal Help AmericaVote Act of 2002 requirements on precinct houses. The act wasenacted to ensure more adequate access to precinct houses for thehandicapped.

Unfortunately, Fields said, the issue is much more complicatedthan purchasing machines. Supervisors are struggling to determinethe most efficient and economical way to make the adjustments.

The county’s primary deficiency in meeting those requirements isthe lack of doors wide enough to admit a wheelchair-bound personand ramps, Fields said. Ten precincts do not have doors wide enoughand about 12 need ramps.

Supervisors Monday discussed replacing some of the precincthouses with prefabricated buildings.

“I’m going to do some research and get some prices on modularvoting precincts,” Fields said.

In some cases, supervisors are powerless to make changes becausethe precincts are located in privately owned buildings, such aschurches. The board has no authority to demand they widen theirdoors or build ramps.

Supervisors may combine the cost of the modular buildings withthe cost of the touch-screen voting machines when they organize thefinancing package, Fields said.

No decision was made, however, because the cost of the modularbuildings had not been determined.