First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Robeson officials don't expect a state mandate to install new voting machines in time for the May primary to be a problem.
The county Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday night to send the state information on voting equipment currently used by the county.
Robeson is one of 90 counties in North Carolina that don't meet new requirements that restrict voting to optical scan machines, electronic recording machines or paper ballots counted by hand.
That means the county will have to scrap its old Diebold Election Systems equipment in favor of 44 new machines. There was the possibility that the county would only have to upgrade its current machines, but County Manager Ken Windley said Diebold and Sequoia Voting Systems - the other system used by many counties - no longer qualify under new state guidelines. That left Election Systems & Software as the only company that could sell electronic and optical scan machines to counties.
Filing for the May 2 primary begins Feb. 13 and ends Feb. 28. The machines need to be in place by the time one-stop voting begins on April 13.
The new equipment is expected to cost about $526,000. But Windley said $36 million in federal and state grants has been set aside to pay for machines across North Carolina.
“We're not going to have to provide the money for the equipment,” Windley said. “It will come from federal money. We will have to have some training from the standpoint of the staff, but we don't expect it to cause much of a hardship for us.”
The county will have to spend $40,000 to $50,000 for the training. The board approved that appropriation Tuesday night.
“It will be a whole new system for us,” said Ricky Harris, director of the county Board of Elections. “So this will require us to be trained and ready to go by May 2. We're going to do our best to meet that deadline.”
The county purchased its current machines in 1992.
In other business, the board voted to give Robeson House $8,000. The Lumberton nonprofit, which provides temporary housing for displaced, neglected and abused children, is struggling financially.
“They are in dire need of money… they asked for $8,000 and that's what the county gave them,” Windley said. “They help out our Department of Social Services with children that really can't go anywhere else.”
The commissioners also agreed to meet with federal officials with the National Incident Management System for a training workshop on Jan. 23.
Windley said the four-hour workshop is conducted by the Department of Homeland Security to help local governments prepare for emergencies. County commissioners are required to participate.
“It is part of setting up a national system for handling emergencies,” Windley said. “I will have to go to see exactly what is covered.”