Rural Counties Work Toward HAVA Compliance

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The Help America Vote Act of 2002 states that after January 1, 2006, punch card ballots or mechanical lever voting machines may not be used in elections. Also, each precinct must have a voting system that's accessible for the disabled and visually impaired.

Most rural counties surrounding Brazos County don't currently meet the requirements . But, there's a rush to get on track.

Some county clerks feel it's easier to keep procedures as they are. That's why when it comes to making voting electronic in order to comply with the Help America Vote Act, the decision is tough.

"There have been reports of hacking and problems with systems that don't have a paper trail, our commissioners court seems to feel a paper trail is very important," said Washington County Clerk, Beth Rothermel.

But, few manufacturers of Direct Recording Electronic voting systems make machines that record votes on paper.

Rothermel listened to a presentation Friday from three machine vendors. She said the main problem is the cost to comply. The federal government will offer $3,000 per precinct for the purchase of machines, but even that barely covers the cost of one machine.

"It appears that even the most inexpensive system will not be covered by that amount, so the counties will still have to shell out some additional dollars from reserves, or budget some of the tax dollars toward that," said Rothermel.

One option is to ask school districts and cities to pitch in. It worked for Brazos County, which leases out the equipment to Bryan and College Station.

"We're recouping and that's helping to pay so all the entities, even though they didn't buy the equipment themselves, their helping fund it," said Brazos County Clerk, Karen McQueen.

Brazos County spent just under a million dollars to comply with the federal Act. Counties like Washington County don't have that kind of money. Officials feel they'll probably have to rely on their old procedures and buy only one machine per precinct in order to comply.