Salt Lake County to Congress on voting machines: Butt out

Published June 26, 2007 5:17 pm
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Posted: 5:17 PM- Salt Lake County urged U.S. lawmakers Tuesday to scrap plans to overhaul the nation's balloting systems, warning that a federal mandate to create a durable paper trail would render electronic voting machines obsolete.

"Stay out of our business," Councilman Jeff Allen said, "and we'll stay out of yours."

In a 5-3 vote split along partisan lines, the County Council opposed the legislation Tuesday, echoing objections already raised by officials in Utah and Davis counties. Republicans condemned the bill; Democrats supported it.

The proposed overhaul - sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J. - would require states to produce a long-lasting paper record of their electronic voting tallies. Trouble is, Utah's Diebold machines may not meet that standard.

Utah's machines create a receiptlike trail with a limited shelf life. If that record falls short of the federal standard, Utah might have to junk its new voting machines - valued at about $27 million.

State and county election officials - including longtime Democratic Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen - call it a waste of money for machines that work fine.

But in a letter submitted to county officials Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, defended the federal measure. He said "millions" of Americans now cast their votes on machines that lack a durable paper trail - a deficiency he finds unacceptable.

Although a costly transition, Matheson said, the bill would allocate $1 billion for replacing voting machines. He said the sum would cover any costs incurred by states and counties.

Salt Lake County Republicans countered that a "billion dollars is a billion dollars," no matter who pays. And why spend it to fix something that isn't broken?

"Our voting system here in Utah is working well," Republican Councilman David Wilde said. "I don't think a one-size-fits-all approach is something we should encourage Congress to pursue."

But Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch urged patience, saying the council should give the federal government time to make it work.

"I don't believe it is perfect bill," he said. "But I believe it is a work in progress."

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