Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, March 19, 2001

Wright County Board discusses upgrade of voting system

By John Holler

It was viewed as only a matter of time before the election debacle in Florida - in which the term "chad" became public knowledge and the presidential election was decided by a disputed 500-vote margin - would come home to roost.

At the March 13 meeting of the Wright County Board, Auditor/ Treasurer Doug Gruber presented the commissioners with a proposed resolution of support from Sec-retary of State Mary Kiffmeyer, asking the county to pursue pending federal grant monies to upgrade the current voting system.

Gruber acknowledged that a number of bills are currently being discussed, at both the state and federal level, because of the Florida election woes, but added that those problems don't exist in Wright County.

"There is a lot of discussion in the wake of what happened down in Florida," Gruber said. "But, we don't have those same problems here that they have in other states. We got rid of the punch card ballots several years ago."

The bigger concern, Gruber said, is how the proposed upgrade of the system would be handled. There has been talk of making one uniform voting system nationwide or statewide - most likely electronic voting. However, the proposed resolution of the upgrade leaves too many vague areas for Gruber's liking.

"I don't have a problem trying to upgrade the election process," Gruber said. "I do have a problem with no funding source being identified. I have some serious reservations about that, because we simply don't know where that money will come from."

Gruber said that a uniform system could make the current voting equipment obsolete, which wouldn't be fair to cities and townships that purchased electronic voting machines (about $2,600 each), like Hennepin County, which spent $2.5 million last year to renovate its own voting machines.

In addition, Gruber said, the costs of programming the electronic voting machines cost each city or township about $3,000 per machine last year, adding that he estimates that just the townships of Wright County spent $45,000 on elections last year alone.

The board agreed with Gruber's concern over the money issue, since nothing has specifically stated that the county wouldn't bear the cost of upgrading the equipment.

It also asks the question of how much a uniform system is needed in small voting areas. One example cited was South Haven, which has less than 100 voters. It posed the question: should a voting district with less than 100 voters be asked to spend in excess of $5,000 for an electronic voting machine and programming of that machine?

Gruber told the board that a meeting of election officials was scheduled for Thursday, March 15, and that much more would be known at that time. With that information, the board laid over making any decision on supporting the Secretary of State's resolution, but made it clear that the county does not intend to be left holding the bag on the costs of the proposed upgrade.

"As long as the money comes with it, I'll support this," Commissioner Dick Mattson said. "However, it seems like we're always getting state programs that cause funding problems for us. The local taxpayers can't handle these costs and, if this one doesn't come with the money to pay for it, I won't support getting involved in it."

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