Austerity is a virtue, especially where public funds are concerned. But there is a point at which austerity can turn to stinginess. Utah County is dancing awfully close to that line when it comes to updating its voting equipment.

State officials will spend the next several weeks trying to decide whether to contract with one of two bidders to provide new electronic machines for Utah voters to use in future elections. But Utah County, the state's second-largest county with more than 400,000 people, wants to go its own way.

That might include keeping the current punch-card system with, as county officials put it, modifications. Whether the technology exists to modify that system remains a big question.

Utah County's reluctance is understandable. The state has to purchase new equipment to comply with the Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed in the wake of voting problems in Florida in 2000. This isn't exactly an unfunded mandate, but it is an underfunded one. Washington is expected to give Utah $20.5 million for the cost of new machines, but the actual cost is expected to be more. That could translate to an extra $400,000 or so for Utah County.

But this is not for some new entitlement program that rankles the sensibilities of conservative Utah County. This is for better, more secure voting equipment. Elections are the supreme manifestations of democracy. If the people lose confidence in their votes being counted correctly, the integrity of the entire government is compromised.

In addition, the new federal voting act contains some requirements that would be difficult for Utah County to meet on its own. One is that voters immediately be notified in the event they have voted for too many candidates for the same office. Punch cards don't provide that kind of instant response — not unless someone has invented a machine that could check the cards at each polling station the minute voters turn them in. Electronic machines, on the other hand, can immediately tell a voter if he or she has made a mistake, then allow for a correction.

This compliance alone would end up costing Utah County money, regardless of which system it decides to use. But there are more requirements, including ones to make voting accessible to the handicapped. Chances are, the expenses involved in meeting these requirements would be fairly similar for Utah County regardless of whether it chose to go with the state.

Of course, the county could defy the law and brace itself for the consequences. But it would be difficult to explain to the people of Utah County why it isn't important for them to be immediately notified of voting errors or to have equipment the handicapped can use with a minimum of fuss.

Utah County operates a tight budget. That is commendable. In this case, however, county commissioners would be better off opening up a bit and getting on board with the rest of the state.

Utah County should update voting methods