$500,000 voting-machine bill?

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New machines may be required in county to leave voting-record paper trail

By Damon Lawrence

The need for election accountability may cost Roane Countians big — as much as $500,000.

And that’s with the state chipping in.

An election paper trail means Roane County could have to purchase new voting machines in the next few years. Even with the state chipping in, Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway estimated the cost for the county could run as high as $500,000.

“I don’t know exactly when this will take place, but the Election Commission wanted me to sort of forewarn the County Commission that it could be something that might come up,” Holiway said.

The county is making preparations for the day when it may have to bear those costs.

Budget director Kaley Walker said the plan is to earmark some money each year, so a big portion of the funding will already be there if the county has to purchase the new machines.

“I’m sure they (county commission) would try and do whatever they could without having to increase property taxes,” she said. “What we’re hoping to do is have the election commission hold off a couple of years and let us start putting a little bit of money aside.”

The 2014-15 budget has $50,000 earmarked for new voting machines.

“Hopefully we’ll have a few years to put some money aside, so it isn’t such a huge chunk of money coming up at one time,” Walker said.

Holiway said the mandate for a paper trail goes back to the 2000 presidential election and the recount that took place in Florida. After the issue with hanging chads, Holiway said, the federal government asked states to use machines that produced a paper trail.

“In the state of Tennessee, they passed that, and then when we found out that there wasn’t a company that met the specifications,” he said. “The state of Tennessee backed off.”

Holiway said the state did receive some money from the federal government for the cause, thanks to the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

“They got to divide it up with all 95 counties, so they’ve come up with a formula for the $30 million or however much they have that they can pay each county $10,000 per precinct and early voting site,” Holiway said.

Roane County has 24 precincts and four early voting sites.

“The state will give us $280,000, and then the county has to make up the difference,” he said. “We would have to buy about 50 units plus all this other stuff that supports the units. The costs could possibly run $400,000 to $500,000 for the county.”

Holiway said the way the new system is supposed to work is when a person goes into the voting booth and makes their selections, the machines will produce a paper ballot showing how they voted. That ballot will then be placed in a scanner that counts the votes.

Holding up the switch, Holiway said, is the lack of companies that can produce machines to do that.

“There’s two or three that have been approved, but a couple of them just got approved in the last year or so,” he said. “In 2012, there was just one company that was approved by the state as meeting the specifications. Hopefully, we’ll have four or five companies eventually that have equipment that meets the specifications instead of just a couple.”