Help America Vote Act
Counties Begin to Receive Monies for Compliance
Federal monies available through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), signed into law in 2002, have begun to trickle down to counties. Funding is administered by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, with $84 million, including a state match of $3 million, earmarked for use by the state and counties.
The first monies available are to reimburse counties that replace punch card or lever voting systems, with the mandate that they do not use those systems as of Jan.1, 2006. Seventeen counties in Texas are eligible to receive about $3,200 per precinct for replacement.
Chambers County was the first to receive reimbursement. The county received $44,700 for direct recording electronic voting systems purchased for 14 precincts in September 2002. The county spent some $350,000 on the new equipment. The county is eligible for another $66,505 in grant funding that can be used for voting equipment purchases or upgrades. Per HAVA, the county can be reimbursed retroactively for the purchases that already have been made.
Jimmy Sylvia, Chambers County judge, said the county wasn’t dependent on the HAVA funds to purchase their system, but receiving the reimbursement was helpful. He said the county now is looking into other grants.
To receive its money, Chambers County used an online process through the secretary of state’s office.
Jerry Sparks, Chambers County auditor, said the process went smoothly and quickly. Overall, he estimated the process took less than a month to complete.
Chambers County served as a test county for the online system, and Sparks said they only discovered a couple of tweaks that needed to be worked out or clarified.
Dan Glotzer, grant manager for the secretary of state’s office, said this is the first time the office has received grant money, so staff are in the process of building the system.
The process requires a county commissioners court to pass a resolution to seek the reimbursement and requires a county to sign an agreement with the secretary of state’s office. Once those tasks are complete and approved, a county will receive a password to go online to fill out an application for funding.
A county also will receive another password for its financial officer. Once an application is processed, money will be direct deposited into a county account.
At press time, other counties were beginning to request reimbursement. Brazos County, for example, was in the initial stages.
Karen McQueen, county clerk for Brazos County, said the county is seeking more than $300,000 for replacement of a punch card system used in 105 precincts.
Randy Sims, Brazos County judge, said the county was disappointed that the reimbursement amount went down from what originally was promised by Congress.
The Help America Vote Act authorized a total of $3.9 billion for various election reforms over three fiscal years, including $2.16 billion for 2003, Glotzer said. Congress actually appropriated $1.5 billion for 2003 – a level of only about 70 percent of the original authorization. Congress appropriated just under another $1.5 million for 2004.
“We stepped up and purchased a new system (nearly $800,000),” he said, “assuming we were going to receive full reimbursement.” Sims went on to say the county has been pleased with its new system, particularly in the way it has streamlined vote counting.
HAVA Funding Streams
The Texas HAVA State Plan divides total funding into 15 purpose areas, available through four sections of HAVA.
Funding to counties falls into five areas:
- Punch card and lever replacement: Monies available to the 17 counties that used a punch card or lever system during the general election for federal office in November 2000.
- County education fund: Reimbursement for costs incurred for attending professional election training. These funds may be incurred by the elections administrator’s office, if a county has one, or the county clerk’s and voter registrar’s offices. Counties are reimbursed a certain amount based on voter-age population.
- Accessible voting system in each polling place: Funding to reimburse counties for purchasing a HAVA-compliant accessible voting system for each polling location no later than Jan. 1, 2006. Counties can receive $3,000 per precinct used during the November 2000 election.
- General HAVA compliance: Voter education, election worker education, and upgraded voting systems to comply with new federal standards are eligible for these funds calculated by county based on voting age population. Minimum reimbursement is $5,000 per county.
- County compatibility with statewide voter registration system: These funds will be available at a later date for replacing or upgrading software and equipment that is compatible with the HAVA-required voter registration system.
Congress has allotted another $100 million in HAVA funds for Texas during 2004.
Ann McGeehan, director of elections for the secretary of state’s office, said a couple of things are needed for the state to access the money. The HAVA Advisory Committee will reconvene this fall, she said, to file a new state plan and determine how to fund the needed 5 percent state match.
McGeehan said the funds from 2003 federal appropriations were not enough to have accessible polling places statewide.
In preparation for more monies to become available, Glotzer encouraged counties to identify items for which they want to seek reimbursement based on the designated purpose areas, and plan their budgets accordingly. Another preparatory step, he said, is to brief their commissioners courts on the available funding.
As the grant program continues to evolve, Glotzer said counties can expect to receive more information about guidelines and procedures. To find out more, visit the secretary of state’s Web site at www.sos.state.tx.us.