Board of Elections members expressed their opposition Wednesday to a bill in the General Assembly that would require the use of paper ballots in all North Carolina elections, a move that could cost Henderson County half a million dollars to implement. “I’m just amazed by this,” said board member Bob Heltman. “I’m perplexed. (It) sounds foolish as hell to me.” “I don’t think we need to be stepping back in time,” agreed Chairman Tom Wilson, referring to the days when illegibly marked paper ballots had to be hand-examined by elections officials, slowing returns. House Bill 607, sponsored by Reps. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham) and Justin Barr (R-Albemarle), would require that all state boards of elections tally paper ballots using optical scanners and would prohibit the use of touch screen voting systems currently used by Henderson and 35 other counties.
A June 7 analysis by the N.C. Fiscal Research Division of the bill’s cost to localities found the net impact to election boards across the state would be $10.91 million in the fiscal year that began July 1, including nearly $6 million to replace the touch screen machines with optical scanners.
“In a big election, it’ll cost about $25,000 just for the paper ballots,” said Henderson County Director of Elections Beverly Cunningham. She told the board the cost of buying optical scanners, special machines for the visually impaired and private voting booths will cost the county around $500,000.
None of the 36 counties currently using touch screen machines have private voting booths to allow ballot marking, Cunningham said. The booths average $150 each.