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Release of Vote Funds Is Sought

August 31, 2004|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Warning that the November presidential balloting could be affected, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley called Monday for the immediate release of $17.5 million in federal funds frozen until the state audits his handling of other federal money for election reforms.

In a letter, Shelley asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's finance director, Donna Arduin, to free up money from the federal Help America Vote Act. He said that $15.4 million of that money was earmarked for county poll worker training, voter education and security measures.

"I am deeply concerned that this delay in funding will undermine the ability of county election officials and this office to conduct a fair and secure election,'' he said.

Conny McCormack, Los Angeles County's registrar of voters, said that "if these funds are not released by the first week in September, there will be insufficient time to use the money to enhance the election. All the counties feel that way.'' Arduin froze the federal funds Friday until completion of an audit ordered by a legislative committee the day before. State Auditor Elaine Howle said Monday that the review could take three or four months, meaning that the funds might not be available until after the presidential election.

However, finance department spokesman H.D. Palmer said his office was working with the secretary of state's office, the counties and others to identify the financial needs that are critical to a smooth election and would expedite authorization of funding. Palmer said he hoped to resolve the questions in a few days.

California has received about $350 million in election grants in the last two years. Shelley was authorized to spend $81.1 million last year, but about $35 million of that was left over.

The governor's office allowed $17.5 million to go to counties for replacement voting machines, but froze the other half pending the outcome of the state audit. That audit was ordered following published reports that some no-bid contracts went to people with ties to Shelley.

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