The country’s attention will be on North and South Carolina during next year’s election as Republicans will compete in a hotly contested primary and Democrats try to keep the Southern toehold they gained in 2008.
But the nuts and bolts of those elections — printing ballots, keeping machines in working order, making sure every voter who wants to cast a ballot gets a chance — depend on state agencies where budgets have shrunk dramatically. Some officials and observers now worry about whether everything will run smoothly on election day. “We are looking at a potential train wreck with less money and more complexity in handling the administration of elections,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina.
The North Carolina General Assembly’s decision to cut more than $1 million from the state Board of Elections budget this year could make it harder for regulators to ensure county election operations are prepared for 2012, particularly with machinery.
The budget eliminated 14 positions, including eight elections technicians assigned to cover all 100 counties. First created in 2005, the technicians help perform accuracy testing on precinct equipment, perform “wellness checks” on county board operations and cite areas for improvement.
“I’ve seen those technicians in action,” Hall said. “They were a valuable part of the team for counties that were under-resourced.”
For example, district technicians performed a wellness check on New Hanover County’s election board after a series of voting machine problems during the 2010 election that caused about 300 voters receiving the wrong ballot. The review found training of county precinct workers lacking and reported that audits of local political action committees and campaigns were way behind. The review suggested a path for improvement.
“They were sort of a fail-safe in the election process,” state elections director Gary Bartlett said. “They were rapid responders … if there was a problem with an election, they were the first there.”
With the technicians gone, Bartlett said more county problems will have to be handled by phone from Raleigh, rather than in person, or counties will have to hire more of their own technical staff. It also could lead longer times before issues are resolved and changes are made.
Full Article: NC faces 2012 with shrunken election budget :: WRAL.com.