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Bertie buys new voting equipment

WINDSOR – In 2001, Bertie County officials thought they had purchased the voting equipment of the future.

However, it appears the future only lasted five years.

With the new HAVA (Help America Vote Act) on the verge of implementation, Bertie County will join in with each local government entity across the nation and offer new voting equipment in time for the May Primary.

Despite paying just over $177,000 five years ago for what was then the “new wave” of electronic voting gadgetry, Bertie officials now must comply with HAVA and purchase nearly $200,000 of new voting equipment. To date, the county has paid, not including interest, $142,185.58 on the 2001 equipment. That equipment is now obsolete under the new regulations set forth in the HAVA legislation.

To comply with HAVA, Bertie County must place at least one new unit in each of its 12 voting precincts in order to meet the ADA (American Disabilities Act) guidelines.

During their meeting on Thursday night, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners agreed to purchase 13 Model 100 Optical Scan System units, each with AutoMARK, a ballot marking device that is ADA compliant. One of those units will be placed at each of the 12 polling places in the county. One other will be in use for One-Stop Voting at the Bertie County Elections office.

An additional 15 regular Optical Scan units will also be purchased (one for each of the 12 precincts, one at the Elections office and two in reserve as back-ups).

The new equipment also includes 80 lighted privacy voting booths.

Adding in the delivery, installation, programming, technical support, software and maintenance, the total bill comes to $198,075.

The good news for Bertie officials is a federal grant in the amount of $176,000 will pay the majority of that bill. In a 5-0 vote on Thursday night, Bertie’s Commissioners obligated up to, but no more than, $24,000 to pay the balance.

Effective during the May Primary, Bertie voters will switch from electronic voting devices to a paper ballot where they will pencil in a circle adjacent to their choice. Those ballots will be fed into an optical scan unit that “reads” the marks made on the ballot and record that vote.

In case of a recount, the paper ballots will be saved.

According to Carol Woodard, Chair of the Bertie Board of Elections, the optical scan units were chosen because of their price. The other alternative was to spend $325,555 (minus the $176,000 in federal funds) for a direct scan system.

At Thursday’s meeting, Bertie Board of Elections member Emma Johnson suggested to the commissioners that one additional worker would be needed at each polling place in order to better handle the new voting method. No action was taken on that suggestion.