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State Budget Cuts Could Mean Long Lines, Faulty Voting Machines For Voters In 2012 Elections

Deep budgets cuts in states across the country could jeopardize citizens’ most fundamental right: to vote for their elected representatives. NPR reports today that states’ election offices have been particularly hard hit by the cutbacks, and voters may experience longer lines and faulty voting equipment as a result:

Gail Pellerin, the county clerk in Santa Cruz, Calif., says she’s considering trimming the number of voting sites in her county by about 20 percent next year because her budget keeps shrinking.

“Each year, they come back and say, ‘Do more with less, you know, we’re going to end up having to give you less again,’” she says, adding that her budget for extra workers at election time has also been reduced. She says this means voters might have to travel farther to cast their ballots, and wait longer for help. Workers in her office also face mandatory furloughs.[…]

In South Carolina, the State Election Commission is also feeling the squeeze. In 2000, the office had a budget of over $2 million. Today, it’s making do with about $850,000 — a 60 percent cut, says spokesman Chris Whitmire.

“Basically, we’re down to a critical level — sort of a bare-bones level — where if we saw any more cuts I think it would have a significant impact on our ability to provide services to counties,” he says.

The state of California is no longer paying counties to send out absentee ballots, which means counties will have to come up with the money on their own if their residents are to have the option of voting absentee. Several states have shortened the number of days for early voting, consolidated the number of precincts, or eliminated paper voting guides to save money.

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One of the biggest concerns about the cuts is how they will impact electronic voting machines. Most places bought new electronic equipment after the 2000 elections but its much more expensive to maintain and usually needs to be replaced every 10–12 years. But election expert Charles Stewart says that many election offices are deferring or canceling maintenance contracts to save money.

While all voters will be affected, the changes disproportionately impact low-income and elderly voters who have limited resources or capacity to travel long distances to vote or wait for hours in line. A near-record turnout is expected in the 2012 elections, but with less money, fewer machines, poll workers, and voting sites, it’s unclear that states will be able to handle the influx.