House Republicans headed off a potentially lengthy debate over whether to set aside more money for this year’s elections with a little-used parliamentary procedure Wednesday. Both the House and Senate had set aside $664,000 in their individual budgets to trigger the release of $4.1 million in federal Help America Vote Act — or HAVA — funds. Together, that extra $4.7 million would have gone toward maintaining voting machines, training poll workers and opening more early-voting sites. But when the final compromise version of the $20.2 billion budget emerged, that money was gone, sparking protests from good government advocates. That budget has passed and is currently sitting on Gov. Bev Perdue’s desk. Typically, after every budget, there is a technical corrections bill that cleans up mistakes, adds in last-minute changes and otherwise tweaks the spending plan. That bill is S 187 this year and was on the House floor today.
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, offered an amendment that would have cobbled together $560,000 to put toward that HAVA match. Of that, $330,000 came from a gubernatorial transition fund that is a new feature of this year’s budget. Democrats have attacked it as a wasteful expenditure by Republicans. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor, has said that money would be better spent on something else. Before Ross could explain her amendment, Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, raised an “Objection to Consideration.”
That threw off many of those in the chamber scrambling for their rule books and made even long-time General Assembly watchers scratch their heads. No such objection is listed in the House’s official rules. As it turns out, that particular procedure can be found in Mason’s Manual, a legislative guide that is referenced in the House Rules as the go-to source for anything not spelled out in the normal rules.