Federal election mandates to cost county $85,000 | VailDaily.com

Federal election mandates to cost county $85,000

Kathy Heicher

The snafu in Florida’s 2000 general election could end up costing Eagle County about $85,000.

Eagle County Clerk Teak Simonton says federal mandates handed down through the Help America Vote Act will require about $5,000 worth of supplemental equipment per precinct.

Eagle County commissioners, while expressing some concern about “unfunded mandates,” say they will plan for the changes, likely pulling the funding out of their capital improvement budget.

“Let’s do it for the 2004 election if possible. There’s no reason to wait if it’s good for the people,” says Commission Chairman Michael Gallagher.

Specifically, by the 2006 election, the county must provide one voting device per polling place that will allow disabled, blind, visually impaired, or citizens who struggle with English to be able to vote independently and privately, Simonton says, adding that currently, elections clerks usually read ballots to disabled voters, a solution that doesn’t allow voters the privacy they might prefer.

Simonton says the county will supplement, but not get rid of, its current Acu-vote system, in which voters fill in the bubbles on ballots like students do on many standardized tests. The ballots are then fed through a machine for reading.

Congress has designated $1.5 billion in funding for with the mandate, and Colorado will get a chunk of that money. The money is primarily targeted for replacement of outdated equipment. Simonton says every county in the state will be hoping for some of that money to help them pay for the additional equipment.

“I’m not optimistic. There’s lots of counties that can prove they are much needier than we are,” she says.

The federal legislation also created another change that voters will notice – a requirement that a drivers license number or Social Security number must be provided at the time of registration.

“Voters will need an I.D.,” says Simonton.

Colorado now requires voters to present identification at polling place elections. If the voter does not have identification, he or she will be provided with a provisional ballot, which allows the vote to be cast but also allows county officials to double-check the voter registration information.

Eagle County put provisional ballots to use during the 2002 election. Typically, the ballots were used when a voter showed up in the wrong precinct.

The Help America Vote Act also specifies that a new Federal Election Assistance Commission be established and funded and that states create statewide voter registration systems. Counties will be required to provide a toll-free phone number or a Web site that will allow voters to determine if their ballot was counted.

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