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Paper Ballots in Primary May Strain Elections Budget

Money issues are a concern for the V.I. Elections System as it gears up for party primary elections Sept. 8, which will test-drive a new law requiring that paper ballots be available for any voter requesting one.

At a St. Croix Board of Elections meeting on Wednesday, after approving the St. Croix district’s primary ballot, Board Chairman Rupert Ross moved that the board establish a dedicated team of election judges specifically tasked with counting paper ballots.

Deputy Supervisor of Elections James Weber II said the Elections System received $75,000 less than in 2010 to carry out partisan primaries, when paper ballots were not mandatory, and urged the board to reconsider hiring anyone specifically for that task.

"You know we are under serious economic constraints," Weber said. "In the past, those who worked the polls also counted ballots," he said, suggesting the board take that approach to save money.

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Ross declined, saying "That is not my problem. That is not an issue the board is going to consider."

Weber responded by again emphasizing that the system was short on cash for the purpose.

"I do not have the money to pay them to count the ballots," Weber said.

Elections officials and board members have been raising concerns about paying the costs of implementing paper ballots – and about funding the elections overall – since the paper ballot measure was approved earlier this year.

The original budget for the Elections System during the current fiscal year was $1.1 million, a reduction from the previous year’s $1.3 million. Then, in the round of budget cuts forced by economic conditions, that 2012 budget was reduced by another $400,000.

After Ross made his motion, board member Adelbert Bryan moved to amend the motion to require all paper ballots be counted within 24 hours. No other member seconded Bryan’s motion, so it was not voted upon.

Voting to set up a separate paper ballot team were Ross, Anita Davila, Lisa Harris-Moorhead and Raymond Williams. Bryan voted nay. Carmen Golden and Dodson James were absent.

The board had planned to test and certify the voting machines Wednesday as well, but printing the ballots took longer than anticipated. Shortly after 5 p.m. the St. Croix board decided to reconvene Thursday morning to test and certify the voting machines to be used in the primary. Sample ballots for both districts should be available Thursday.

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