JEFFERSON CITY - Hand-counted, paper ballots that plagued Florida two years ago would become history in Missouri under a plan unveiled by state election officials Tuesday.
"Missouri is moving away from punch cards," proclaimed Secretary of State Matt Blunt announcing state implementation of a new federal election law.
Blunt said Missouri would get $76 million in federal funds to help bring the state into compliance with federal requirements. Almost $20 million of the state's grant will go to paying for new voting systems.
Blunt said more than half of all Missourians still vote with a punch card.
But local election officials said that without sufficient funding, it could be more a dream than reality.
"The voters won't notice any significant change," predicted Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren.
She argued the state was not getting enough money. "They've dumped all this money into election reform, but whose going to come up with the rest," Noren said. "If we took everything in the law to the extreme degree, it would cost close to $8 billion nationwide."
In order to receive the money, states must create a plan to improve voting systems including using more technology, mail-in voter registration and increased accessiblity for diabled voters.
Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, had a brighter view of the efforts. He said this would help make sure every vote counts. Before becoming a representative, Deeken was the election official for Cole County, which uses punch card ballots.
"This improvement will make the election system great." Deeken said. "It will help people put trust back in their vote."
Blunt said Missouri already meets many of the federal requirements, but that more work is needed.
"We can't expect people to participate in their democracy unless they think their votes count and that it won't be discounted by irregularities in other parts of the state," Blunt said.
Federal law also requires each polling place to have at least one voting machine that is acceessible to people with disabilities.
"It is about time that voters covered under the ADA get treated like everyone else," Deeken said.
Noren said that these voting machines would cost $75 million state-wide. "No body has that much money this year," she said. "The county should not have to pay for it and the state's broke."
Blunt has appointed an advisory committee to decide how the state will implement the various changes. But a proposal moving through the state legislature would update Missouri's election laws to meet those requirements.
The bill would create one central voter registration database kept by the Secretary of State. The list would allow local election authorities to check if a voter is registered before allowing them to vote on election day, Blunt said.
Dekalb County Clerk, Mary Berry, who will serve on the state advisory committee, said she supports the bill.
"We are the local election officials who have to administer the elections," Berry said. "If it works for us, it will work for everyone."
The bill would also create a state-wide pool of election judges and remove the part of state law that requires election judges to be registered to vote in the county where they judge.
Noren said she is always desperate for poll workers. "It's not like I'm going to go steal judges from other counties, but I think it will help in certain areas," Noren said.
The state advisory committee will begin its work today (Wednesday) and Blunt said they need to act quickly in order to take advantage of the federal money.