A new state law could force Buncombe County to replace its 9-year-old electronic-voting machines, Election Services Director Trena Parker reported at the Board of Commissioners’ Oct. 18 meeting. Beginning next year, voting machines used in North Carolina must create a voter-auditable paper record of each ballot cast, she said, and manufacturers have until Nov. 5 to deliver sample machines for evaluation.
The State Board of Elections will certify voting systems that meet the revamped standards and will stage public demonstrations during December. County boards will be required to select machines for purchase by Jan. 20, 2006. Although the county’s current machines, manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems, can be retrofitted with printers, Parker said the company doesn’t think it can have a model available in time for the state evaluation. If Sequoia misses the deadline, Buncombe will be forced to replace its machines.
Although the actual cost can’t be determined yet, Parker asked the commissioners to include $1.5 million for this purpose in the 2006-07 budget. About 60 percent of the money ($924,000) would be provided by the state, she said, and the county’s current machines have some trade-in value, because they can still be used in other states.
Under the new law, voting-machine companies are still permitted to keep the source codes in their software (which actually tabulate the votes) secret. Oddly enough, the Venezuelan government now owns a controlling interest in Sequoia Voting Systems, according to corporate records widely reported on the Internet, and therefore has access to information about the machines that is denied to U.S. election officials and watchdog groups.
The National Wildlife Federation recently named Montreat a Community Wildlife Habitat. Mayor Letta Jean Taylor described a wildlife-habitat program that has made the little town (pop. 650) the first municipality in North Carolina — and only the seventh in the U.S. — to win the designation.
Montreat, said Taylor, had already “established zoning ordinances, been granted the right (by the General Assembly) to create an extraterritorial jurisdiction, and had designed green spaces, but still felt we could do more. So in 2002, we began the process of creating a wildlife-habitat certification program.”
The town encouraged residents to create backyard wildlife habitats meeting NWF guidelines. Partipants produced twice the required number of such projects and built an interpretive trail to provide an environmental-education experience for the thousands of tourists who visit each year.
In other business, the Board of Commissioners appointed Barbara Murphy and Barbara Warren to the Senior Volunteer Services Advisory Council and Lori Webster to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee.
Rounding out the unusually short meeting was the first public-comment period to be included in a formal session under a rule change approved Oct. 8. The sole speaker, Weaverville resident Jerry Rice, said: “We’ve had one heck of a boom in Buncombe County, and the tax receipts have gone way up. In the next round [of property revaluation], if we could lower the rates — I’d appreciate it if you could put some money back into the pockets of the taxpayers. I think they deserve it; we’re blessed with a lot of money.”
The commissioners offered no reply, and the meeting was adjourned after a round of good-natured banter about Chairman Nathan Ramsey‘s upcoming marriage.