WASHINGTON – States have spent only about 60 percent of the more than $3 billion they have received to replace antiquated or malfunctioning voting machines and otherwise improve voting, says a report released Tuesday.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission said in its report that it began doling out funds to states in June 2004. As of Dec. 31, 2006, states had spent $1.8 billion, but still had $1.3 billion in unspent federal funds.
The commission was created under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to address voting problems identified in the disputed 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The funds distributed by the commission mark the first federal aid program to help resolve voting difficulties, which have historically been left to states to handle.
The rate at which states are spending the federal aid to improve voting is uneven, according to the report. Some states, such as California, Ohio and South Carolina, had spent virtually all the federal money they had been allocated.
But other states had spent only a fraction of their funds. New York, for example, had spent only 1.5 percent of the $219 million it has received. New Hampshire had spent only 2 percent of the $16.6 million it has received.
Commission Vice Chair Rosemary Rodriguez said that unlike most federal assistance programs, states are not required to spend the voting improvement funds immediately.
"Congress, when it decided to fund voting systems in the states, gave a lot of discretion to them on when and how to spend funds," Rodriguez said. "It is federal intervention, but not with a heavy hand."
Ray Martinez, a former commission vice chair and a policy adviser to the Pew Center on the States, said the report's figures may be outdated because they did not include funds spent in the first seven months of this year.
Election officials in a number of states have told him that they have spent all their federal aid and are scrambling to find additional funds to meet all the requirements of the federal voting assistance law, Martinez said.
New York hasn't spent its federal aid because it is still in the process of deciding which voting machines it will approve for purchase by local jurisdictions.
State officials hope to make a decision on the machines by early next year so that they can be ready by September 2008, "but it's a very tight schedule," said Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections.