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County won't get all new machines by Nov. 7 election

September 14, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Berkeley County's order for 155 more touch-screen voting machines is being processed, but the manufacturer will not be able to supply them in time for the 2006 general election in November, County Clerk John W. Small Jr. said Tuesday.

In a joint interview with Small, deputy clerk Bonnie Woodfall said West Virginia Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office told her last week that the county would be able to use 28 "loaner" Ivotronic machines for the coming election. They will be placed at the largest polling places in the county, Woodfall said. The county already has 65 machines (one for each precinct) and for the first time, the touch-screen option will be available for the early-voting period, which begins Oct. 18, Woodfall said.

Since the machines won't arrive in time, voters in Berkeley County will have a choice in November to use opti-scan paper ballots or the touch-screen machines already in place.

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"We never said we were going all 'Ivo' in 2006," Woodfall said.

Small is the county's chief election officer. Woodfall is Small's supervisor of voter registration, but the County Commission was obligated to handle paperwork involving the loan application.

"We can approve and give them the money (for the machines). That's not the problem," Ireland spokesman Ben Beakes said last week. "There's no problem with their application, it's fine."

But with only four or five manufacturers and demand nationwide "a whole lot heavier" than supply, Beakes doubted the touch-screen machines would arrive in time for the Nov. 7 election.

County Commissioners were told last week by County Administrator Deborah Hammond that the county's application would not be immediately considered. Small and Woodfall disputed that, noting they were told that the State Election Commission would be meeting later this month to formally sign off on the application.

Anticipating a two-year delay of the application last week, Commissioner Steven C. Teufel suggested the county reallocate about $240,000 in matching money required for the revolving loan program.

Though participation in the program is handled on a first-come, first-served basis, Beakes said county leaders' fear that the money will disappear is not realistic because loans approved by the State Election Commission are continually being repaid by program participants.

Counties have five years to pay off the loans, but may apply for an extension for hardship reasons.

"There's always money in the fund," Beakes said.

Even if the machines would arrive before the 2006 general election, Woodfall said not enough time would be available to alert voters of the county's elimination of the option to vote with a paper ballot.

Instead, Woodfall said she anticipates reaching out to voters in 2007 to educate them on use of touch-screen machines before the 2008 election year.

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