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County balks at paying for more voting machines

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Marshall County bought voting machines a few years ago, but since then a state law says different machines are required and now the county wants state lawmakers to change that.

One estimate of the cost -- $75,000 -- is over 50 percent more than the $48,000 generated by each penny on the county's property tax rate, thereby indicating, without spending cuts, the tax bill on a $100,000 house would go up $3.75.

"We've changed voting machines three times in the last 10 years," Election Commission Chairman Don Wright said. "That gets expensive and we're asking them to delay that... I think it grew out of the 2000 election and the hanging chad."

Florida vote recounts not withstanding; Wright is dismayed, saying, "I think the machines we have are failsafe... I don't think it's been proven that these machines will drop a vote."

The required new machines use a paper ballot that's scanned by a computer. The requirement is an "unfunded mandate," Wright said.

The president of the Tennessee Association of County Election Officials, Joe M. Enoch, warned Wright nearly two months ago about the cost of what state lawmakers were imposing on counties' budgets and Enoch sought support for a bill to repeal the law with an October start date that was postponed.

Marshall's cost was estimated at $48,270, Enoch said, but that was increased.

County Elections Administrator Jo Ann Henry explained since the law's delay, another estimate on the cost had to be calculated and it had to include the November election. That increased the estimate to about $75,000.

"It would involve going to an optical scanning machine," Henry said of the machines that are required by the law county commissioners want repealed.

Unanimously, the commission voted on Feb. 28 for a resolution added to the panel's monthly agenda during the meeting.

It opposes adoption of the optical scan system in time for federal elections in 2012 because of the cost during economic conditions when county governments are struggling for funds to cover operating expenses.

Commissioners noted Henry's "full confidence" in the current election machines.

The machines in use now provide a "paper trail," commissioners noted. Receipts are part of the optical scan system.

A bill in the state General Assembly has been filed by Rep. Glen Casada of College Grove to repeal, or postpone implementation of the law requiring use of the optical scanning system.