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County Election Officials Want State To Unfreeze Funds For Election

Election officials in counties across North Carolina are asking lawmakers to release $4 million in federal funds to help pay for the 2012 elections. Counties largely bear the cost of paying for elections. After the 2000 presidential election came down to a recount in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. That gave states money to upgrade voting systems. North Carolina has about $4 million in that fund. The thing is to get that money, State Board of Elections Director Gary Bartlett says the state has to keep its own election funding at the same level as 1999. But lawmakers decided to cut election money this year. "To completely comply with these grant requirements they would've had to put up a maintenance effort of an additional $668,000 and they said because we already met HAVA requirement we wouldn't fund it," says Bartlett. Bartlett says state lawmakers wanted to give the money back to the federal government. Instead, he convinced them to hold onto it with the hope that some day the state would be able to take advantage of it. The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of election officials in nearly all of the state's counties. They say cash-strapped counties need the federal money to provide adequate early voting facilities. Mecklenburg County has used about $350,000 in HAVA funds each year over the past few years to maintain its voting machines. The county's director of elections Michael Dickerson says in 2008 the funds allowed the county to open a handful of early voting sites. "It was a great use of the money for us and we were able to get all those folks to vote early and not have to worry about long lines and buying additional voting equipment for a presidential election," says Dickerson. If the HAVA money remains frozen, counties will have to decide whether to pick up the tab.