An election issue

June 26, 2012 

The right to vote, it’s trite but true to say, is priceless. Not so was the cost of a better-run statewide election this November. That opportunity carried a $664,000 cost – too much for the writers of the $20.2 billion budget that cleared the General Assembly last week.

Even though the House had approved the $664,000. Even though the Senate had endorsed a similar, if smaller, sum. Even though the state money would have released about $4 million from federal coffers, via the Help America Vote Act, to maintain and improve North Carolina’s election system.

In the end – when legislators got together behind closed doors to reconcile the House and Senate budgets – it was all too much. “We literally were just trying to find every dime we could out of the budget,” explained Republican Rep. David Lewis of Dunn.

Economy in government is a virtue. But not penny-wise, pound-foolish economy. That’s what this “bewildering” inaction (Jack Hudson, president of the bipartisan Election Boards Association of N.C.) amounts to. The legislature not only lost a chance to leverage state money. It’s reasonable to worry that if counties are forced to spend their own funds to maintain voting equipment, instead of Help America Vote money, they’ll have less for poll worker training and to run early voting centers.

Remember too that this is no ordinary election, not even an ordinary presidential election. Following statewide redistricting, voting districts have been divided and subdivided in unprecedented ways. Multiple ballots must be printed. Without special attention, long lines and confusion could be the order of the Election Day.

If ever the legislature needed to put a priority on election efficiency, this was the year, and there was the money. But no.

Rep. Lewis hinted that more than mere penny-pinching entered the decision. Accepting federal matching funds, he suggested, is how programs like Medicaid got started. Perhaps. But rejecting a modest amount of aid, at minimal cost, to help assure a clean, voter-friendly election looks less like valid concern over burgeoning entitlements than sheer unwillingness, for whatever reason, to guarantee a priceless right.

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