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County receives grant for new voting equipment

The visually impaired will soon be able to vote without assistance in the county and all voters will have a chance to check their ballot for mistakes such as over-voting. This comes about through a one-time $153,000 grant to St. Francois County through the Help America Vote Act. The $153,000 grant includes $116,000 for purchasing the Direct Recording Election (DRE) devices and $37,000 for second-chance voting.

Machines accessible to the disabled are being required across the nation at each polling place in time for the next 2006 federal election to facilitate private voting for disabled citizens. The devices are to include a touch-screen, as well as a voice headset and a Braille bar similar to a keyboard for making selections.

The machines will include a paper trail, St. Francois County Clerk Mark Hedrick stressed, so accountability can be maintained.

The specialized voting machines were challenged in other states because some did not have a paper trail and as such could not be recounted. The courts have ruled that the ability to recount is a necessity.

Hedrick said he will be putting out bid notices for the DRE machines next week. He won’t know until the bids come back whether the state’s $153,000 grant is large enough to cover the entire cost of purchasing one machine for each polling place. If necessary, the county will pick up the rest of the tab, as they are required to do by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Hedrick said the machines will be set up like a regular polling booth and that they can actually be used by any voter. They will be particularly beneficial for a visually impaired voter, however, who can use them to cast a ballot without any outside assistance.

&#8220The way it is done now we go out to the vehicle, or they have someone come in and mark their ballot,” Hedrick explained. &#8220This is a good change for elections, to allow everyone the opportunity to cast their own ballot in privacy.”

This is the second HAVA grant the county has received. The first, for the punch card buyout, was for about $90,000.

The county purchased an optical scan voting machine which cost nearly $225,000. The additional costs were paid by the county.

HAVA was passed by the federal government following the 2000 presidential election. Among other things, the legislation requires every polling place to include an accessible voting machine for individuals with disabilities. It also requires that Missouri voters get an opportunity to check their ballot for mistakes and make sure they didn’t &#8220over-vote” before the ballot is cast – a requirement often referred to as &#8220second chance voting.”

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