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The Daily Tar Heel

State Board of Elections cuts could inconvenience voters

Cuts to the State Board of Elections could cause inconveniences for voters in the upcoming 2012 election.

Many political officials have expressed concern about potential problems voters might face at the polls due to a $1 million cut to the State Board of Election’s budget.

The cut, enacted this summer, coupled with a freeze in federal Help America Vote Act funds means local boards of elections have to make do with less — including the elimination of 14 election officials statewide.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said eight of the election officials are technicians, which train county elections workers to improve accuracy, audit voting equipment and provide emergency technical support during elections. The technicians also served as liaisons between the state offices and local boards, he said.

Without these technicians, Bartlett said it could take longer for polling place problems to be resolved. The lack of federal funds could also result in longer lines at polling places and the use of older voting equipment.

“Many of the less wealthy counties will be without IT support as far as voting equipment is concerned,” said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the State Board of Elections.

Damon Circosta, executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said the state could run into infrastructure problems.

“Without adequate funding and machines, you could run into a Florida in 2000 or an Ohio in 2004,” Circosta said.

“Running elections is like a shuttle launch. You only get one shot.”

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said budget cuts coupled with redistricting could lead into additional problems.

“I think there is less help for the locals at a time when we could have a very difficult ballot,” she said.

Kathy Ray, director of the Madison County Board of Elections, said a couple of technicians helped the board resolve a lawsuit stemming from the 2010 election. Equipment problems resulted in 700 uncounted votes, she said.

“The (district election technicians) were very, very helpful in conducting an audit trail and subsequent reports relating to it,” she said.

“We will continue to be able to provide quality election services, but it is going to put a burden on us.”

While many lower-income counties could experience problems, Tracy Reams, director of the Orange County Board of Elections, said the funding cuts will not affect Orange County this fiscal year.

There might be one fewer early voting site in the 2012 elections due to the freeze on federal funds, she said.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, a co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology committee, said the cuts to the board of elections partially resulted from inefficiencies related to the use of state funds by technicians.

The majority of technicians did not fully utilize state-issued vehicles and failed to consistently administer performance management systems, Brock said, citing a report issued in February 2011.

“These were problems they created,” he said. “They were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, and they ate all the cookies already, so I don’t understand why they are complaining.”

The elections should still run smoothly despite the state funding cuts and freeze of federal funds, he said.

Despite the cuts, Bartlett said local boards will adapt to the funding situation.

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