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Congressional bill may require new voting machines

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the H.R.1 – For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights reform bill that, if passed in the U.S. Senate, would institute federal mandates regulating how individual states and counties conduct their elections.

And as Carroll County Administrator of Elections Peg Hamlet pointed out during the March 30 Election Commission meeting, the new bill may mean having to purchase a whole new set of voting machines.

Hamlet explained that the new bill would require all voting centers in the U.S. to use paper ballot voting systems – and as the county’s current voting system is electronic and does not use paper ballots, a new voting system will have to be purchased if the bill becomes federal law.

But Hamlet added they do have around $210,000 in Help American Vote Act (HAVAS) grant money left over from when they acquired their current voting machines back in 2006, and depending on which vendor they go with, that money might cover the entire expense of buying a new paper ballot voting system.

Hamlet said, however, that members of the Carroll County Budget Committee have advised her that she will need to wait until it does become a federal mandate before they would approve the expenditure.

• • •

Hiring of extra workers defended

Hamlet and Election Commission members also discussed the matter of some county commissioners recently taking issue with the Election Commission hiring additional election workers during the November 2020 election cycle without first clearing it through the county.

According to Hamlet, a total of 220 part-time early voting, office support, and election day workers were hired on a temporary basis to help deal with the record level of voter participation and all the extra duties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a recent meeting of the Carroll County Legislative Body, four commissioners voted against a resolution for the county to cover the additional expense associated with hiring the extra workers, though the resolution did pass.

Hamlet pointed out that she is under mandate from state government to do what is necessary to ensure that elections are conducted properly according to all state regulations, and she has been given authority by the state to hire additional employees if she believes that the situation warrants it.

“If we’re in the heat of an election cycle, we can’t wait a month for them [commissioners] to make a decision,” said Hamlet. “The state gives me authority to do what has to be done.”

Hamlet said she would speak with Carroll County Attorney Robert Keeton Jr. regarding the situation and encouraged Election Commission members to reach out to county commissioners to explain how the Election Commission is not strictly confined to county budgeting parameters like other county departments.

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