Absent from the budget approved Wednesday by legislators is a previously included $664,000 appropriation that would have automatically released around $4 million of federal funds to maintain and improve the state’s election system. Allocating the funds would have kept the state in compliance with guidelines set under the Help America Vote Act, passed in 2002 as a reaction to controversy in the 2000 presidential election that brought phrases like “dimpled chad” into the country’s lexicon. Under the act, states must contribute money to take advantage of federal cash set aside to maintain and improve voting systems. Previous versions of the House and Senate budgets included the funding, but cost-saving efforts won out at the last minute.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Dunn, vice chairman of the House Finance Committee, said the funding was axed as leaders were scrambling to find cuts that would have a minimal impact over the next year. “We literally were just trying to find every dime we could out of the budget,” Lewis said. “While it was tempting to grab this federal money, we looked back and we said, that’s probably how they felt when the first Medicaid bill came out.”
Others have suggested the decision was politically motivated and will have a noticeably negative impact when voters crowd booths this November. Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a liberal-leaning election advocacy group, distributed a press release warning of potential problems with voting and pointing out that counties will be responsible for an additional $3 million toward maintenance of machines alone.