Residents won't have to worry about hanging chads or any Florida-reminiscent controversy soon, as Clay County is on its way to getting new voting machines.
County Clerk Mary Brown said that the actions taken to get new machines have been "an ongoing process," and that they're still not done quite yet.
"The state mandated that every county with punch-card or lever voting machines has to get rid of them by a certain date," Brown explained. "The Federal Government jumped on that bandwagon pretty soon after that."
Brown said that the good news is that most of the cost, which is close to $300,000, will potentially be offset by refunds from both the State and Federal Government. Of the original price, $298,000, Clay County could recoup as much as $273,000 in refunds.
"State and Federal are both throwing in cash in sections," Brown said.
To qualify for these refunds, the county had to have a contract for new machines signed by Oct. 31 of this year. Brown brought this contract before the Clay County Commissioners, who all penned it, and sent it to the contract company, MicroVote, who will be supplying the county with new voting equipment.
"One of the regulations is that we have at least one booth for visual-and-hearing-impaired people," Brown said. "The other machines are push-button, and the votes are kept internally. I know a lot of older residents will have a problem with this, but MicroVote is really good about bringing the product in early to let people experiment with it."
Brown said that the only other option was to use an "eye scan" machine, a fill-in-the-dot system similar to scan sheets used in high school and college testing. Brown said that this option has caused problems for other counties in the past, so they went ahead with the push-button version.
She continued that the county's current provider gave an estimate for the project that was nearly twice as high as MicroVote's.
"We're keeping the booths the old machines used to keep with privacy standards," said Brown. "But otherwise, we're pitching all of the old stuff to make way for the new machines.
She also said that the county hopes to have the machines implemented by the 2004 primaries, adding that they would be "getting to work at the first of the year."