Hays County elections committee recommends new voting equipment from current vendor

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On Wednesday, the Hays County Elections Equipment Advisory Committee recommended the county pursue electronic voting equipment from Hart, the county’s current provider of election equipment.

The county’s current voting equipment is more than 12 years old, Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said. In November, an apparent glitch followed by the misplacement of a voting machine record caused more than 1,800 votes to go uncounted in the election. Residents have been demanding the county re-examine its voting equipment, and the advisory committee was formed in response.

During the May elections some residents also reported issues at the polls. San Marcos CISD Trustee Kathy Hansen said she received a May ballot with city elections on it despite having never lived within the city limits.

The committee’s recommendation to use Hart as the voting equipment vendor will be reviewed by the county elections commission, and a final decision will be made by the Hays County Commissioners Court. The committee also considered voting equipment from ES&S.

On Wednesday, the Denton County Commissioners Court voted to switch to the use of paper ballots after glitches in voting machines caused errors in November.

San Marcos City Clerk Jamie Lee Case said the switch to paper ballots in Hays County could be difficult to implement, but would likely restore trust in the voting process.

“I don’t know that it would necessarily be the most efficient option, but it would probably make at least some voters, who are asking for that [more confident in the voting system],” she said. “The last thing I want is for a voter to feel disenfranchised in anyway. We want exactly what these folks are wanting. We want to have trust in the process.”

Paper ballots have been a topic of conversation among Hays County residents since news of the November voting errors was made public. Anderson said the switch to paper ballots—which provide a paper trail and which some residents say would increase their confidence in the county’s voting system—may be difficult because of state law.

The county has been discussing implementation of vote centers, which allow registered voters to cast their ballot at any voting site in the county. However, current state law requires that entities holding elections use electronic voting machines if they are using voting centers.

“We have two vendors and two possible systems and a lot of laws that dictate what kind of procedures we can use,” Anderson said.

A bill to repeal the electronic voting equipment requirement did not get passed during the 85th state legislative session. The equipment recommended by the commission could be retrofitted to allow for the use of paper ballots in the future if the law is repealed, Anderson said.

“In the best-world scenario we would want vote centers with a paper trail,” Anderson said. “We do understand that’s a popular demand out here and that needs to be addressed at the legislature.”

The county election office does not have information about the cost of the new voting equipment yet, Anderson said. The meeting at which the county elections commission will discuss the committee’s recommendation is in the process of being scheduled.

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Brett Thorne reported on education, business, economic development and city government in San Marcos, Kyle and Buda from 2012 to 2017. Thorne attended Texas State University in San Marcos, where he graduated in 2010. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2012 and was promoted to editor in 2013.
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