A couple of bills important to both voters and taxpayers cleared major hurdles in the Tennessee General Assembly this week.
A measure that would require all counties to use optical scan voting machines with paper ballots by November 2012, adopted by the legislature in 2008, has been a concern to virtually every county election commission and legislative body throughout the state due to the tremendous costs associated with the plan.
That issue was addressed Tuesday in the House State and Local Government Committee with the approval of a bill that would implement the plan only if the General Assembly includes a specific recurring appropriation in the
General Appropriations Act for the 2011-2012 fiscal year to cover all increased costs to the counties. That measure now goes to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The Senate version of the bill is still pending in the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
"The legislation passed by the committee is a win-win for local property taxpayers," said DeKalb County Administrator of Elections Dennis Stanley. "If the legislature insists on counties using this type of voting system, state dollars would be used to pay for the recurring costs of printing the ballots and other expenses associated with the plan. Also, if the bill
passes, but money is not included in the state budget adopted by the General Assembly, the plan would not have to be implemented, and we would continue to use the voting machines we use now." Stanley was one of about
20 administrators in the state to attend the committee meeting to show support of the bill.
"Even if state or federal funds were used to purchase the actual machines, we estimate it would cost this county a minimum $60,000 during the 2012 calendar year to go to this type of voting system," said Election Commission Chairman Walteen Parker. "This cost would include the printing of ballots, the purchase of voting booths, educating election workers and the additional costs of transporting the machines to and from the voting precincts. The bill that cleared the committee this week would do one of two things, use state funds rather than local property tax
revenue to finance all the costs, or the plan would never be implemented. Either way, the local taxpayer wins."
"We want the public to know that, through the legislative process, we are working to save tax dollars while still providing voters with a safe, accurate voting system," Parker added.
A bill sponsored by State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver and State Senator Mae Beavers that would save small city governments money cleared the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
As passed, the bill would "eliminate the early voting period for a municipal election in a municipality having a population of 5,000 or less, if there is no opposition for any office in the election and the election is held on a date which does not coincide with the August or November general election, unless the municipality files a request with the county election commission for an early voting period to apply."
The bill now goes to the Senate Calendar Committee. The House version of the bill cleared the House State and Local Government Subcommittee this week and will be heard by the full committee next week, March 15. "We commend Senator Beavers and Rep. Weaver for looking out for the interest of taxpayers," Stanley said. "This bill would only apply if there is no opposition in a city election and only for cities that have a population of 5,000 or less."