Clerk taking action on new voting devices

Clerk taking action on new voting devices

URBANA – Fresh from the primary, Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden was cranking out faxes first thing Monday morning to drum up interest in an advisory committee to help bring new voting machines to the county.

Shelden is recruiting citizens from a range of constituencies to help him with the task of replacing the county's outdated punch-card voting system with optical scanners.

The Democratically controlled county board has been dragging its feet, the Republican said, and the county has new deadlines to meet.

Chill, said Democratic County Board Chair Patricia Avery.

"Mark's a little hyper. He needs to take some Ritalin and relax," Avery said.

At issue is the county's compliance with the Help America to Vote Act, which requires counties to eliminate punch-card voting by 2006.

The federal government will reimburse counties at the rate of $3,192 per precinct to purchase the machines. Shelden estimated the cost for Champaign County at around $800,000 to $900,000, including the training of judges and education of voters. The reimbursement would be $377,000.

Meanwhile, Shelden said he wants to put together an advisory committee for several tasks, including confirming the desirability of optical scanners, consolidating precinct voting locations to save money, and deciding ways to accommodate blind voters and others who need assistance.

"I proposed forming this advisory committee last October. The county board instead decided to create their own committee," Shelden said. "However, that committee has not met in the five months since it was created. My office, and this community, can wait no longer to determine how to implement the federal mandates under the Help America to Vote Act."

Avery said the urgency is overstated.

She said the board's own election subcommittee has been trying to get a meeting scheduled, but the secretary attempting to include Shelden in the meeting kept getting put off because Shelden's office was too busy with the primary, Avery said.

Members of the election subcommittee are county board Democrats Robert Kirchner, Tony Fabri and Avery. Republicans are Scott Tapley and Greg Knott.

Avery said the election subcommittee was going to put together its own advisory committee, including many of the same groups Shelden is trying to recruit. Shelden mentioned recruiting representatives from PACE, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Farm Bureau, RSVP, Illinois Student Government and representatives of the political parties, including the Greens.

"Working with Mark is something we want to do. Hopefully our county clerk will be an asset," Avery said. "But the final decision is really up to the board. We are the ones who will approve the equipment. It's ridiculous to duplicate our efforts. He always wants to be out front. To put out there that the county is dragging its feet is just ridiculous."

Statewide, 51 of 110 voting jurisdictions now have optical scanning machines. Thirty-three jurisdictions added them between last Tuesday's primary and the previous election, said Diane Felts, director of voting systems and standards for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Shelden said he wants to hold the first meeting of the advisory group April 26.

"We are behind now, but it is possible to get this process back on schedule with hard work and cooperation between all interested parties," he said.

You can reach Phil Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at bloomer@news-gazette.com.

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