The next election will be held in May, when Scott Bowen and Laura DuPont’s seats on the board expire. CCISD’s May 2020 elections were postponed until November due to COVID-19; in November, Harris and Galveston counties ran the election for the first time in decades, CCISD leaders said.
CCISD will see a savings of about $65,000 in the general fund by running its own election in May, said Paul McLarty, deputy superintendent of business and support services, Nov. 15. The total cost of a county-run election would exceed $125,000, whereas the district can run the election for about $60,000, he said.
“We’re going to save money by doing it internally,” McLarty said, adding all votes cast in a district election have been true and correctly counted. “We’ve never had any problems with our elections. ... All the numbers have been verified, so we’ve held clean elections.”
The motion to approve the spending on new voting machines passed with trustees Bowen, Michelle Davis and Jeff Larson opposing. Trustees and community members expressed concerns throughout the meeting over the accessibility of district-run elections compared to county-run elections.
Voter turnout in November was higher than usual, indicating the district might see more engagement if its elections coincided with other municipal races, Bowen said.
“Being on a common election with other local elections is good governance,” he said. “An election is not just something we do. We want it to be something that our community can participate in.”
There are different restrictions around ISD elections, McLarty said, and the board would not be able to formally amend election dates or frequencies on its own without legislative changes.
During the meeting’s public comment section, Bettina Ellison and Katie French both spoke in opposition of the district purchasing the new voting machines. Using county-provided staff and supplies for elections would reduce the load on CCISD employees, Ellison said.
She and French said local citizens have concerns around election integrity, which would be assuaged if elections were county-run. French also asked the board to consider burden on voters when it comes to having elections run by different entities, since this means people have to visit multiple locations to cast all votes.
Davis, who has electioneering experience, echoed French’s sentiment.
“People are not likely to go to two voting places,” she said. “I know this because I’ve done electioneering, and I've told them where to go to vote for CCISD elections, and nine out of 10 of the people said, ‘Nah, I’m not going over there.’”
Hart InterCivic, the company providing the voting machines, gave CCISD around a $60,000 discount on the new equipment purchased, per board meeting documents. This discount was good through the Nov. 15 meeting, after which time it was not guaranteed, McLarty said.
The company, like many others, is facing supply chain issues, which is why district leaders saw it necessary to place the order well ahead of the May elections, he added. The new machines will be of the same type used by both Harris and Galveston counties in their elections.
The new voting machines were purchased to comply with state legislative requirements: Senate Bill 598, passed during the 87th regular session, requires a verifiable paper trail of all votes. The systems used now by almost all Texas entities do not have a verifiable paper trail and, as such, will be phased out by Sept. 1, 2026, per board meeting documents.
While this leaves CCISD with ample time to update its machines, McLarty said equipment failures this May could take entire polling places out of service. Hart InterCivic no longer makes the eSlate voting equipment that CCISD currently owns, so they cannot guarantee the ability to repair machines or availability of replacement parts for those machines, he said.
Two early voting eSlates malfunctioned during the May 2021 election, and one malfunction was on election day, which resulted in no backup eSlates for that day, he said. The district would risk equipment failures happening again, which could take entire polling places out of service, if machines were not updated for the election this May, McLarty said.
The eSlate equipment was purchased in late 2013, per board documents; prior to this time, the district leased equipment from Harris County. Bowen and Davis expressed concerns that the new machines, much like those purchased eight years ago, could become outdated and expensive to update down the line. However, McLarty said the district no longer has any option to lease Harris County equipment.
Board President Jay Cunningham said CCISD staff run a smooth, efficient election, especially compared to those that are county-run. During discussions over the voting machine expenditures, he indicated trustees should make consistent decisions when it comes to spending money.
“I think we have to decide, if we’re fiscally conservative, are we only fiscally conservative when it suits our needs, or are we fiscally conservative all the time,” Cunningham said.