County Officials Not Eager to Replace Punch Card Ballots

County Officials Not Eager to Replace Punch Card Ballots

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- While Utah's county clerks are eager to replace punch-card ballots with electronic voting machines, other county officials, fearing they may have to increase property taxes to help pay the cost, are not.

They think maybe the state should pick up the tab, but some legislators say it is the counties' responsibility.

Under the Help America Vote Act, every state must submit a plan for changes to the election process. The act provides some funding to states to replace punch-card voting systems and requires the state to provide equal access to blind voters. That means buying at least one direct-recording electronic machine per polling place.

Utah Association of Counties Director Brent Gardner said Wednesday that some county leaders worry the federal government will not cover all of the costs of the change in technology.

"There's a gap in funding that needs to be covered," Gardner said. "We don't know how much the federal government is going to appropriate and how much the state will pick up. What is the total cost? And who is going to make up the difference? Is it the counties' responsibility to raise taxes to pay for it?

"It was mandated upon the state, not on counties," Gardner said.

Legislators said counties are charged with administering elections for the state, and county leaders should figure out how to pay for them.

"It's the counties' responsibility to solve that problem," said Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George. "We can't solve that for 29 counties."

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker expects federal grants to cover most of the costs of more than 7,000 voting machines. But the state has collected just $8.8 million so far.

Accordingly, Walker has adjusted the state's plan to place just one $2,500 machine at each polling place for the 2004 election to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other machines will be purchased as money becomes available, Walker said. The counties' share is less than $170 per machine.

"If, at any time, we determine we will not get full federal funding, we will go back and change our plan," Walker said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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