SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Facing a budget crisis and mandates of the Help America Vote Act, Sacramento County officials retracted a $20 million request for proposals that would have provided precincts with new touch screen voting machines.

Sacramento Registrar of Voters Ernie Hawkins cited several uncertainties that led to his decision to postpone the purchase of this new voting technology. Chief among his concerns is the requirement of the federal HR 2239 that a paper trail of ballots be a part of any voting system. The Help America Vote Act should be in place sometime next year. In addition, California's new Secretary of State, Kevin Shelley, convened a task force to examine the state's voting processes and findings are not yet available. Hawkins was reticent to make decisions before the state issued its own opinion.

Sacramento County is also facing a significant budget deficit. Hawkins reported that while his department's annual budget is about $7 million, an addition $5 million per year would be needed to support touch screen voting. He explained that transporting the units, programming them, providing security, maintenance and paying licensing agreements and other costs would too much of a financial burden in the current economic climate.

As dialogue about electronic voting systems grew after the 2000 presidential election, many new vendors entered the market. Some provided a "receipt" of the ballot or an electronic tracking method. But, over the months it has become clear that election officials want any system to provide a paper copy of the ballot. At the same time, many smaller, upstart companies merged with larger firms to gear up to meet the potential demand for electronic voting systems.

Because voting technologies have not matured, One Sacramento County supervisor said it was unwise to purchase voting technologies too early because, in the months it takes to issue an RFP, award contracts and roll out new machines, newer and better technologies may make it to the marketplace.

Hawkins suggested yet another change that electronic voting might exert on the current process. Because the machines are costly, but facilitate the voting process, he said it may be judicious to consider the consolidation of precincts to maximize use of electronic voting technology.

Until the county is ready to launch into full-scale electronic voting, optical scanning technology that produces a card similar to the controversial punch-card will be used. Instead of punching out holes that produced the now-infamous chads, voters will mark spaces on the ballot.