Cuts to election funding worry experts

Posted October 2, 2011
Updated October 3, 2011

— The country's attention will be on North 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.

The North Carolina General Assembly's decision to cut more than $1 million from the State Board of Elections' $6 million dollar budget this year could make it harder to ensure county election operations have the machinery and personnel they need to make the 2012 election run smoothly.

Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, called the cuts "a recipe for chaos."

"The election apparatus in this state has never been fully funded. And we're now cutting into the bone," Circosta said. "If you lose 20% of your funding, which 20% of voters do you not want to show up?"

The cuts eliminated 14 positions, including eight elections technicians who helped elections officials in all 100 counties statewide. Since 2005, they've been helping counties design their ballots, test and troubleshoot voting machines, and find areas for improvement before they become problems.

"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."

Ballots, poll worker, election worker Big contests, new ballots could mean long lines at polls in 2012

With the technicians gone, Bartlett said more county problems will have to be handled by phone from Raleigh, rather than in person. More affluent counties may hire more technical staff of their own. But poorer counties may not be able to pick up the slack.

"What we have got to do is learn how to do more with less," Bartlett said. "It's possible it will take us longer to get to the bottom of the facts."

House Speaker Thom Tillis said he is confident the State Board of Elections will continue to function efficiently.

"Unfortunately, tough decisions had to be made this year, and agencies throughout state government are having to tighten their belts, like North Carolina families have done for more than two years," Tillis said in a statement.

Budget-writers also declined to provide $3.4 million in required funding this year to unlock $4 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds. They're meant to help counties open more one-stop voting site and purchase voting machines and license to operate the machines.

In 2008, when HAVA money was available, there were 370 one-stop sites across the state.

"We will not come near that number this time. So, you will be seeing longer lines at one-stop sites (and) longer lines on Election day, and we just hope that voters have patience and understanding," Bartlett said.

Turnout is expected to be high in 2012, with both the presidential and gubernatorial races on the ballot. It's also expected to be more complex, with new voting maps that split up hundreds of state and congressional voting precincts. If those maps win federal approval, precinct officials may have to stock a half-dozen ballots or more, rather than one or two. 

Circosta said all those new ballots will cost more to print, and more workers, not fewer, will be needed to make sure each voter gets the right one. 

Unless lawmakers find more money, Circosta said, North Carolina could end up with a messy election like the one in Florida in 2000 that held the presidential results in the balance for weeks.

"The problem with the elections apparatus is (that) nobody cares until it's too late," he said. "It's like a shuttle launch, and we've got one chance to get this right. And the only griping will come, if something goes wrong, after the election."


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  • soyousay Oct 4, 2011

    We should NOT be paying for primaries

  • curiousgeorgia Oct 4, 2011

    Uh, babedan, you sound a little muxed ip about "independent". We have "Unaffiliated" voters in NC and the parties (Note that) the parties allow unaffiliated voters to vote in the Primaries. They are the ones that choose to allow or disallow Unaffiliated voters to vote in the Primaries. With the high number of Unaffiliateds I doubt if the parties will close the Primaries...or maybe they will...

  • Capt Mercury Oct 4, 2011

    Cutting election funding has always been a tactic of the privileged class to gain an advantage in election outcomes. Less funding means more problems with the manpower and equipment needed to make elections go smoothly. Poor areas will have poor equipment and more troubles. Poor people are less likely to stand in line for hours waiting to vote. Their bosses will fire them if they are not at work. Business owners can stand in line as long as they choose. While less funding might make it easier to commit fraud if it were only paid election officials observing. But that is not the case.

  • gary13 Oct 4, 2011

    SHOW us ALL the VOTER FRAUD you love to talk about.. JUST SHOW US PROOF... then we'll believe, but until you HAVE some PROOF, you can take your "voter fraud" and....... says bigal02282

    OK doofus, this is just from a very quick search on WRAL alone...

    Shelia Ramona Hodges, 46, and Kierra Fontae Leach, 26, both of 2707 Pheiffer Drive, Brandon Earl McLean, 25, of 2900 Bethune Drive, and Lela Devonetta Murray, 55, of 3201 Edwards Mill Road, each face a felony charge of voter fraud. District Attorney Colon Willoughby said more arrests are possible.

    A grand jury indicted John Jackson, who ran for mayor of Fairmont, with voter fraud. Investigators said he voted for himself twice – once in early voting and once on election day.

    A 14-year-old Durham boy and his father have been criminally charged for the boy's admission that he voted in the Nov. 5 election.

    I realize someone from Duke has leaning problems, but time to grow one.

  • bigal02282 Oct 4, 2011

    Sheesh, the Repubs just NEVER get tired of spreading the lies. As Mark Twain said: "A Lie is halfway around the world before the truth is finished typing it's shoes." SHOW us ALL the VOTER FRAUD you love to talk about.. JUST SHOW US PROOF... then we'll believe, but until you HAVE some PROOF, you can take your "voter fraud" and.......

  • Gary_too Oct 4, 2011

    I hope none of you Tea Party types complain about lines and voting problems on Election Day. says hp277

    Like the problem of democrats voting multiple times? By the poll workers having no idea who voters really are, those types of problems??

    OH, that's right, those aren't problems, those are democrat policies, sorry. My bad. Vote Early, vote often, Obama's Chicago way.

    Obama - Epic Failure

    One and Done

  • hp277 Oct 4, 2011

    The effective and accurate running of elections is part of the foundation of democracy.

    We won't recognize the problems with the election until Election Day, and then it's too late.

    But we saved a million dollars out of a $19 billion state budget, so I hope none of you Tea Party types complain about lines and voting problems on Election Day.

  • Gary_too Oct 4, 2011

    Since they are so short of poll workers, I guess I can find a Gray Panther uniform from day's gone by and I have a night stick, so I will go volunteer at some poll. Threatening voters is OK if you are a panther so heck, it might be fun! And I could do some community service as well?

  • ginaosbo Oct 4, 2011

    On the video last evening, I noted that WRAL showed voting, in what I assume to be in the last election. Showing the ceiling at the Boards HQ rotting. Showing the machines used to record the votes, implying that they will be broken. But in the background (and it has been my experience as well) there was at least one lady with a big smile on her face, handing out "I Voted" stickers, one at a time. In my precinct there were at lease two of these folks. I am sure these folks are volunteers? "Better to seem, than to be"

  • miketroll3572 Oct 4, 2011

    Heres the out the Demos have been looking for if they lose. It was all the budget cuts and broken machines. Hanging CHAD time.

    You got that right, and the law suits will fly........