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County struggles to comply with law

Nevada County may not be in compliance with the Help America Vote Act this year, according to the county’s clerk-recorder, making it difficult for residents with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to vote.

“Why are we allowing the disenfranchisement of some voters?” asked Ann Guerra, Director of the FREED Center for Independent Living, who spoke at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting.

“(We’re) commending you for taking this issue on,” said Ana Acton, systems change advocate for the center. She emphasized the importance of helping people with disabilities to “vote in an individual and private matter the same as everyone else.”



Passed in 2002, HAVA requires “states adopt voting systems that are fully accessible by disabled voters and are capable of generating a permanent paper record that can be manually audited, and create a statewide computerized voter registration database,” according to the Department of Justice, which on March 1 filed a lawsuit against the State of New York for its failure to comply with the federal law.

In California, some counties are in compliance, while others have yet to meet it.




Neither Guerra nor Acton knew the number of disabled voters in Nevada County unable to vote by absentee ballot who would be enfranchised by full HAVA compliance. However, “people like to go to the polls,” said Guerra, adding that turnout among disabled voters is remarkably low.

Nevada County has received $1.7 million in state and federal funds to comply with the federal voting act. Guerra and Acton said it would cost approximately $1 million to outfit county polls with a system called “Automark” – which would likely allow everyone with a disability to vote at the polls – and $125,000 for Votepad, which presents some problems for disabled voters, and may therefore not be eligible for HAVA funding, they said.

However, HAVA compliant equipment may not arrive prior to elections this year, said Kathleen Smith, County Clerk, Recorder, and Registrar of Voters.

“Being prepared for November elections is optimistic,” Smith said at the supervisors’ meeting Tuesday.

Smith plans to have a single Votepad system, which costs $2,000 each when purchased in bulk, at the county elections office before the primaries, she said, adding that negotiations with voting equipment companies have been reasons for the delay.

District 1 Supervisor Nate Beason called the situation a “sticky wicket” and asked Smith to put a “full-court press” on the issue.

“You have my assurance,” Smith said, promising she would do her best to give disabled voters an equal opportunity in the upcoming elections.

Other items from Tuesday’s meeting:

• Two new buses will be riding the route from Nevada City and Grass Valley to Auburn.

“We’re getting more people who are switching,” Director of Transportation Michael Hill-Weld said of the number of commuters who have made the transition from driving to taking the bus, adding that many bus passengers use the route to link to Amtrak service.

Supervisors approved a $200,000 loan from the county’s general fund at Tuesday’s meeting, which Hill-Weld said is meant to “cash-flow” the purchase until a $415,000 grant arrives from the Federal Transit Authority within the next 30 days. The pair of buses, 25-passenger, clean-diesel vehicles, are ready to go and will be added to the Highway 49 route in the next month, said Hill-Weld.

• The supervisors voted Tuesday to apply for $50,700 from the Workforce Housing Reward Program, part of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which disperses funds based on the number of new bedrooms that are affordable to those with low incomes.

Supervisors discussed on Tuesday using approximately $45,000 of the WHR Program funds for improvements to the Veteran’s Memorial Building in Grass Valley and $5,652 for the Cascade Shores wastewater project.

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To contact staff writer Josh Singer, e-mail joshs@theunion.com or call 477-4234.


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