Pricey Harrison

Friday, August 19, 2005

Increasing Voter Turnout & Confidence

The General Assembly has given final approval to legislation, which would let voters in Chapel Hill and Carrboro cast ballots at locations of their choosing. The legislation, Senate Bill 98, would create a pilot program through the 2006 elections in which “super precincts” would be created, likely in easily accessible areas that have plenty of parking. Voters at these locations could cast votes, either in early one-stop voting or on Election Day. Supporters say the idea could increase voter turnout by making voting more convenient for commuters and others, compared to standing in lines at local precincts near their homes.

The General Assembly also gave final approval on Thursday to Senate Bill 223 which will permit only three types of voting methods in North Carolina and also agreed on how to disburse government grants to help pay for machine upgrades. The measure, developed after Carteret County electronic voting machines lost 4,438 ballots in last November’s election, also requires state election officials to hand out more than $36 million in grants to meet new standards. During the 2006 elections, voting in North Carolina only will occur in the form of optical scan ballot machines, electronic recording machines or paper ballots counted by hand. Electronic machines will have to provide a paper copy of a voter’s ballot, which could be corrected by the voter before they are recorded. Counties only will be able to purchase machine brands that have been certified by the State Board of Elections.
The House amended the Senate edition by laying out a formula by which federal and state grant money will be given to all 100 counties to meet the standards. As many as 88 counties may have to buy or upgrade machines. Bill supporters say the amounts should be enough for most counties to purchase the least expensive optical scan machines. If they want to buy more expensive electronic machines, they’ll have to pay the difference.
The bill also will allow the State Board of Elections to experiment during the 2006 elections with alternatives to a paper record of a ballot. That may include audio playbacks of a voter's choice or a photographic image of an electronic ballot.
Elections officials also will perform sample hand recounts statewide and compare totals to ensure voting systems are accurate. The Carteret County mistake occurred when a vendor failed to change a setting on a group of electronic machines used in early voting. The lost ballots threatened to require election officials to call a new statewide election in the close agriculture commissioner’s race.

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