Tuesday, May 20, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia will receive up to $60 million from the federal government to replace its punch-card and mechanical-lever voting machines and upgrade other election procedures.

Punch-card ballots were at the center of the 2000 presidential election fiasco in Florida, which prompted last year’s Congress to appropriate $3.9 billion to help states replace the machines and make other improvements.

Virginia received its first $5 million installment two weeks ago and an additional $6.8 million is expected by the end of this month, said Jean R. Jensen, secretary of the State Board of Elections.

Miss Jensen made the remarks Thursday at a meeting of the Help America Vote Act advisory committee, a 50-member panel of registrars, voting officials and others she appointed to advise on how to implement the new federal law.

Based on a federal formula, Virginia will get $4,000 per machine to replace each of the 2,553 mechanical-lever machines and the 2,638 punch-card machines that in 2000 served 62 percent of the voting precincts in the state. Some localities already use optical-scan or touch-screen machines.

In addition to the $23 million for new machines, the state will receive $13 million to replace its statewide voter-registration computer system. Other money will go for training election officials, setting up a formal complaint procedure, hiring more staff and improving handicapped accessibility to voting booths.

Virginia officials hope to have the new machines by Jan. 1, 2006, in time for congressional elections and a U.S. Senate election.

Because of the influx of federal money, manufacturers are offering a number of new voting machines. Seven types of machines are authorized in Virginia, and the state board will consider adding five more this summer.

Traditionally, local governments have paid for new voting machines.

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