A bipartisan panel of county auditors, supervisors and state election officials has come up with a formula to distribute 17-and-a-half-million dollars from the feds that’s to be used to buy new voting equipment. Woodbury County Auditor Pat Gill says it’s a godsend.
Gill says he’s been trying for the past six years to convince the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors to upgrade the county’s voting equipment, which is 20 years old. Now, this federal money to buy voting equipment will filter down to Iowa’s 99 counties. Linn County Auditor Linda Langenberg says her county already uses modern optical scan voting machines, but they will use their allotment to install units that help the disabled vote — something that’s now required by the federal Help America Vote law. “That’s kind of what’s driving this whole equipment purchase is HAVA’s requirement for audio capability, so that if a blind or vision-impaired person comes in, they can vote independently, without assistance,” Langenberg says. Calhoun County Auditor Judy Howrey says the distribution plan is fair.
“We worked very, very hard on this, looking at the bigger counties, the precincts, the registered voters they have and we looked at the smaller counties to make sure they had funds to work with,” Howrey says. “We spent many hours and did it as (accurately) and (equitably) as we could across the state of Iowa.”
Union County Supervisor Mike King has been on the state’s Help America Vote Act implementation panel since its creation. “We’ve had to roll our sleeves up,” King says. “There’s been some controversy over it but we’ve worked it out.”
King says they had to explain to some of the state’s larger counties that it’s cheaper to run and finance elections in urban areas than in smaller counties where the population is so sparse. Secretary of State Chet Culver led the group that over the past two years came up with the money distribution plan.
“We are very proud of this bipartisan effort and the effort to balance the rural and urban interests,” Culver says. Culver believes many of these new voting machines may be up and running for elections yet this year. There’ll be school board elections in September and municipal elections in every precinct in the state in November.
Paul DeGregorio, vice chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, says Iowa is ahead of most other states in coming up with a plan to distribute the federal money. He says New York got 60 million dollars from the federal government in the summer of 2003, but that money hasn’t been touched because they haven’t submitted a plan, like Iowa just has, to distribute the money in ways set out in the Help America Vote Act. In addition to that 17-and-a-half million for counties, Iowa will use another six million dollars in federal money to build a new computer system for voter registration. Three million will be held in a contingency fund that can be tapped if counties need more money for updating equipment.
Voting Systems Forumla (PDF)