In a little-noticed move during a year with two large-scale elections Appropriations Subcommittee has eliminated money for vote counting machines and modernizing maintenance of voter registration roles.
The subcommittee rejected a request of the D.C. board of elections and ethics for about $300,000 which included money for the first phase of modernizing the city's election returns procedures. The money would have provided vote counting machines to coyer about 20 per cent of the city's precinets.
"We've lost out opportunity to get into the 20th century," said board chairman Shari B. Kharasch. "We're being penalized for having three good performance.
The elections office, which used to turn election night dramas into farces fearuring lost ballots and delayed vote counts, has conducted the last few elections and vote counts with no major problems. Public pressure to shape up and sosme internal fighting resulted in reorganization within the elections office and subsequent improvements in operations.
Those elections in which paper ballots were handcounted shouldn't be used as proof of the board's ability to handle elections without problems indefinitely, elections officials said.
"They're judging us on elections that are not among the most complex type," said administrative officer Thomas Sims. "What they're saying seems to be - 'You're run three very good elections, so you don't need machines,' "he said. With more complex elections in the offing," the strain is there," he said. "We're hoping the systmes won't break down, however," he said.
The city had asked for money to purchase electronic machines that count paper ballots at each precinct. Using the machines results can be available, telephoned to the elections board, shortly after the polis close. Now, boxes of ballots are taken to a central location where they are tabulated.
The machines that the city wants to buy are not voting machines but vote counting machines which electronically scan cardboard ballots for pencil marks. Among the advantages of this system, according to a study that identified the vote counting machines as what the city wants, are that voting can continue even during an electrical failure, since voting is by hand, and that the ballots are retained and can be double-checked as a guard against fraud or mistakes.
In city's most recent election, the July special election of the at-large City Council seat won by Hilda Mason, the 30 machines that the city already has were used in ward three, where turnout was expected to be (and was) heaviest.
"We had the results from ward three before the truch ever came into the central counting procedure to be between $750,000 and about $1 million, depending on variables such as who supplies the machines. The mayor's office had decided to ask for the money in installments, said Sims.
The Home Subcommittee deleted the funds from the city's total budget request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, asking the city to study the request further and come up with a more definite cost estimate for the total package. The full committee and the House, which usually accepts what the subcommittee recommends, are expected to act on the city's budget in September.
The subcommittee chairman, Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.), has said in the past that the city should have the machines. "Instead of building, more buildings the city officials should start buying some voting machines or vote counting machines," he said in June, 1976.
The next election facing the city is in November, with 365 Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats up for election as well as seven school board seats. Vote counting machines probably could not have been in place by then, but might have been by the following election, September, 1978.
That primary combines races for the congressional delegate's seat with races for nominations for major, Council chairman, and seats of two at-large Council members and four ward Council members.
Elections office employees have been planning for future elections with the expectation that modernization would be underway, Sims said.