Federal law may lead to statewide voter checklist

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(Host) A state plan to implement a new federal election reform law was adopted by Vermont officials on Monday. Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says Vermont will receive an additional four million dollars from the federal government as soon as the proposal is certified by a new Elections Board in Washington D.C.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The federal Help America Vote Act was passed by Congress last year in response to the ballot problems that emerged in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. The legislation establishes some uniform voting procedures and allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to help individuals states upgrade their voting systems.

Vermont has already received five million dollars under this law and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says it’s very likely that the state will qualify for another four million dollars later this year.

Markowitz says most voters won’t see the major changes that make up the Vermont election reform plan. She says individuals will continue to vote the way they currently do in their communities. Towns that use paper ballots will still use them and communities that use optical scanning machines will continue to use those voting devices.

Markowitz says there are two big changes in the Vermont plan. The first calls for the development of a statewide checklist. Markowitz is hoping to have this system in place before the 2006 election:

(Markowitz) “The statewide checklist allows us to catch duplicates. So that we know if somebody’s registered in two towns, we can take them off their old town and clean up the list. It prevents people from voting twice in more than one place.”

(Kinzel) The second big change involves visually impaired voters. The federal law calls on all communities to have equipment available to allow these voters the opportunity to cast their ballots in a private setting. Markowitz originally thought this provision might require all towns to purchase expensive voting machines, but she now believes that there are some other options:

(Markowitz) “So what we’re doing is taking a look at all the technological choices and frankly, in speaking to visually impaired Vermonters, many of them are very comfortable with particular computer programs that will speak to them and allow them to interact. And so we’re looking at whether it’s feasible to simply use that computer program to design a ballot that gets printed out and then hand counted.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz hopes the Vermont proposal will be certified by federal election officials by the end of the summer. If that happens, the state should receive a grant of four million dollars sometime in the fall. Markowitz says the money will be used to help local communities implement the new law and to finance a variety of voter education programs.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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