After hearing the sales pitch last week, the Gonzales County Commissioners Court unanimously decided July 29 to purchase new election equipment. The equipment total, which includes hardware, accessories, software, services and a trade-in discount, comes in at $294,551.88. Among the equipment purchased are 18 DS200 Precinct Scanners, eight ExpressTouch Curbside Voting Solution devices and 36 ExpressVote Ballot Marking Devices.
Before the vote took place, the County Clerk’s office compiled a list of benefits the new equipment would pose for the county. The clerk’s office said thanks to the system’s quicker tabulation, the county would be saving money in regard to paying out election worker overtime. The clerk’s office also noted they would be able to rent the equipment to other entities in county such as cities, school districts and the hospital district.
The new hybrid system will utilize touch-screen technologies for selection but will still produce a paper record for tabulation. Gonzales County Tax Assessor-Collector Crystal Cedillo said that the county had met with both chairs of the Gonzales County Democratic Party and the Gonzales County Republican Party and that they were both in support of the new equipment.
The court was incentivized to make the purchase now for several reasons. Gonzales County Judge Pat Davis stated that sooner-than-later the county will be required by the state to use electronic machines and now is the most cost-efficient time to purchase them. Davis also noted that he believes the county will in the near future retroactively receive up to 50 percent of the purchase price back via state money.
Another reason given for the county’s decision was the upcoming November statewide constitutional amendment election. County officials hope to gain experience with the new machines in what they expect to be a more relaxed cycle.
Despite the incentives and endorsements, some commissioners had a few qualms with the new system. Precinct 1 Commissioner Kenneth O. “Dell” Whiddon expressed concern for voters and election workers that aren’t “computer savvy.”
Cedillo said election workers would be thoroughly trained on how to operate the new machinery. Gonzales County Attorney Paul Watkins compared the new devices to an ATM. Davis noted that even fast food restaurants have begun to embrace new technologies.
“You go to McDonalds now, you can walk inside, and you can order what you want right then and there,” Davis said. “It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s what we’re moving to.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin La Fleur and Precinct 4 Commissioner Collie Boatright sought to clarify issues related to warranty.
The package deal included a one-year hardware and software warranty, but there is an additional annual $16,765 post-warranty license, maintenance and support fee. Boatright wanted to clarify that physical damage was covered in the post-warranty fees, which County Clerk Lona Ackman said, via phone call, that it is.
With the new equipment, the county will soon be able to apply for the Countywide Polling Place Program. The Texas Secretary of State program would allow for properly registered voters to be able to cast ballots at any polling location in the county and not be restricted by their designated precincts.
Countywide voting would also allow the county to cut polling locations. County officials see this as a cost-saving measure. Currently there are 14 polling locations in Gonzales County, and each are staffed with at least three election workers. With countywide voting permitted, the county would be allowed to cut down to 65 percent of the 14 polling locations. That translates to roughly 9 or 10 total locations.
The county must apply for countywide voting with the Texas Secretary of State and meet certain criteria, such as exclusive use of direct recording electronic voting systems and the implementation of a computerized voter registration list, before the program can be implemented. The county hopes to implement countywide voting with the reduced polling locations by 2021 and will continue to operate regularly until then.
One other fee listed with the equipment purchase packet involved electronic pollbooks. The cost for 30 ExpressPoll tablets with stands plus software and implementation services total out at $39,300. Ackman did not appear at the court meeting July 29 but did inform The Inquirer after the meeting that the fees involved with the electronic pollbooks would not be billed until after the county is certified by the Secretary of State.
Other news from the meeting: