On July 5, the Hays County Elections Commission will consider a citizen committee recommendation to utilize new election equipment after issues at polling places plagued the November and May elections. The county's current voting equipment is more than 12 years old, Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said.
The new equipment does not have a paper trail that can be audited, an attribute which has caused concern among some Hays County residents. On Tuesday, resident Craig Young told the Hays County Commissioners Court he believed the committee failed citizens in recommending equipment that lacks a paper trail.
“There is a groundswell across this country of citizens who are demanding an audit trail,” resident James Keller told the court during the public comment portion of the meeting. “They’re demanding paper. They want to have paper ballots and they want to have the results printed out at the precincts before anything is moved.”
Anderson said making the switch to paper ballots could be difficult because the commissioners court has voiced a desire to implement voting centers, which allow residents to cast election day ballots at any polling place in the county rather than only at their precinct’s polling place. The move could reduce confusion caused by voters who go to the wrong polling place to cast their ballot on election day. However, state law requires that jurisdictions using countywide polling places utilize electronic voting equipment.
Some electronic voting machines, also known as direct recording electronic voting machines, are capable of producing a paper trail, but none have been approved by the state.
“Currently, there are no [direct recording electronic] voting machines that also produce a contemporaneous paper trail certified for use in Texas elections,” said Sam Taylor, communications director for the Texas Secretary of State, in an email. “Such voting systems are not required by statute or the Texas Constitution, nor are they explicitly prohibited.”
Taylor said legislative action would not necessarily be required to allow the use of voting equipment that produces a paper trail in countywide polling places. If the Secretary of State's office approved a direct recording electronic voting machine that also had a paper trail, Hays County could begin using that equipment.
The recommended equipment could be retrofitted to allow a paper trail, Anderson said. But state law would have to change before the county could use the paper trail equipment at countywide voting centers.
Sam Brannon, one of the county residents appointed to the elections technology committee, called the committee's process for selecting new equipment "amateur-ish."
“I would call it irresponsible to put this recommendation forward,” he said. “We’re creating a risk of not having any idea of what we’re talking about with this recommendation.”
The election technology committee included Brannon and six other citizens, as well as Jeff McGill, Hays County information technology director; John Adams, Hays County Democratic Party chairman; and Russell Hayter, Hays County Republican Party chairman. Two non-voting members also served on the committee, including Virginia Flores, chief voter registration and election clerk; and Elections Data Programmer Tomas Cardosa. Anderson is chairperson of the committee.
Brannon said he felt most of the committee members had clear affiliations with political parties or the county, and he would prefer to see a new committee formed.
“I don’t see a lot of either wherewithal or even interest in giving [the recommendation] a tighter look, so maybe we just need to appoint a new committee," Brannon said. "In any event, I think whatever report they wind up putting forward needs to be dismissed until we go about looking at it a different way.”
The committee's recommendation will be considered on July 5 at a meeting of the Hays County Election Commission. The commission will then provide a recommendation to the commissioners court, which will make a final decision about voting technology.