County still paying for legislative foolishness

Apr 02, 2013

The never-ending impact of an unfunded mandate was felt again this week as the Haywood County commissioners face another tough budget year.

As of July 2012, each county in North Carolina had to start paying for its own contract with a voting machine manufacturer to perform federally required maintenance.

The annual maintenance on the county’s voting machines is required through the Help America Vote Act and federal funds have paid for a majority of the cost in the past. The N.C. Board of Elections had to have $646,000 in matching funds to access the $4 million in federal funding.

However, that amount was taken out of the state budget by legislators. That shortsighted cut is now an extra expense for the 100 counties in North Carolina that have to pick up the bill.

If any real thought had been given to the issue before it was taken out of the budget, perhaps the Republican majority in N.C. General Assembly would have considered allowing each county to provide $6,400 to account for the matching funds. Surely the states would have preferred that annual cost as opposed to what they had to start paying.

Haywood County will now have to spend $41,500 a year for the next five years to carry out its current maintenance contract on voting equipment.

This was not a wise move for the state in a time when each county department has to scrimp and save to stay under budget. The county has to make tough decisions between what is considered a necessary service and what can residents can do without. Meanwhile, those in charge at the  General Assembly are making careless decisions in an effort to cut the budget without thinking about how it is affecting local governments.

The goal of the Help America Vote Act is to make voting fair and accessible to all Americans is a good one. Thankfully the federal lawmakers who passed the measure ensured it could happen at a minimal cost to those implementing it.  In refusing the funds, North Carolina legislators only ensured the available money would be spread among those in other states. Those paying the price are taxpayers across the state, county by county. If it isn’t too late, the General Assembly needs to reconsider their action and ensure the federal funds are used as they were intended.