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Friday, January 04, 2008

New vote system funded in Lackawanna County


Lackawanna County taxpayers will catch a huge break on the acquisition of new voting machines.

The state Department of State agreed Monday to reimburse the county up to $1.7 million to help pay for a new voting system for the April 22 primary to replace the Advanced Voting Solutions electronic machines that were decertified last week.

Similar offers will be extended to Wayne and Northampton counties, which also have the now useless AVS touch-screen devices, Department of State spokeswoman Leslie Amoros said.

The announcement of the state?s decision came late Monday afternoon from the transition office of Democratic Commissioner Mike Washo and Commissioner-elect Corey O?Brien, who will become the majority on Jan. 7, 2008.

"This is a victory for all the taxpayers," Mr. O'Brien said at a hastily arranged news conference, where he and Mr. Washo were joined by attorneys Lawrence Moran and Gerard Karam, who have been working on the voting machine issue for the transition team,.

According to a letter to Mr. Moran and Mr. Karam from Harry VanSickle, who heads the state Bureau of Commissions, Elections and Legislation, the department will reimburse the county for the procurement of a new voting system up to the invoice price of its AVS system.

In 2006, Lackawanna County purchased 500 electronic voting machines from AVS for $1.7 million. The new machines were necessary to bring the county into compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act, which barred the use of the mechanical lever machines voters had used since 1930.

Voters used the touch-screen machines in the 2006 primary and general elections and the 2007 primary. However, the state suspended certification of the machines for the November 2007 general election after AVS failed to gain federal certification, forcing the county to use paper ballots.

The state notified AVS on Friday that it was permanently decertifying the machines.

Mr. Washo said the transition team went to work on finding an alternative voting system immediately after the Nov. 6 election, working with officials in Wayne and Northampton counties, as well as the Department of State.

?They have ensured we are not going to be embarrassed in April,? he said.

The $1.7 million reimbursement from the state will come from three sources: $1.15 million from HAVA funding the state has received from the federal government, $328,000 from the county?s share of HAVA interest, and $231,000 from HAVA money already designated for use by the county.

The next step will be the selection of a new voting system.

The county will send representatives to a voting system vendor fair being hosted by Northampton County on Jan. 15. At least five manufacturers are expected to demonstrate their state-certified systems at the event, Mr. Karam said.

Assuming the county chooses a system shortly thereafter, employees in the Voter Registration Office would be trained on it during the month of February, with training for poll workers and voter education to take place in March and early April, he said.

Wayne County spent $295,000 to buy 100 AVS machines in 2006. Northampton spent $2.1 million to purchase 600 of the machines.


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