The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved the use of new voting machines for the May 2 local elections at the Jan. 29 regular meeting.
Fort Bend County’s voting system is about 15 years old, and with the option for straight-party voting going away in 2020, newer technology and additional machines were needed, said John Oldham, elections administrator for Fort Bend County, in a previous interview with Community Impact Newspaper.
The county selected Elections Systems and Software’s machines and purchased about 1,700 at a total cost of approximately $7.8 million, an amount approved by Commissioners Court during an Oct. 8 meeting.
The cost to implement the system was about $4.2 million less than what the county was projecting the upgrade would be.
With the new voting system, voters will use a touch-screen device to cast their ballots, and then, a paper ballot will be printed, turned in to poll workers and run through scanners for tabulation. The county will add 300 new scanners through this effort, Oldham said.
He added that voters will not keep a copy of the ballot.
Using the new system during the primaries will help the county work out any issues, glitches or kinks before the general election in November, Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage said at the Jan. 29 meeting.
Prestage and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers served on a committee to help select the new voter machines.
“We believe that this is the best overall system,” Meyers said at the Jan. 29 meeting. “It’s a change from the one we have, but we believe that as people get familiar with it, it’ll be a simpler system to vote on.”
Poll worker wages
Also at the Jan. 29 meeting, the court approved higher wages for poll workers starting in the March primaries.
The wages increased for the following positions, Oldham said in an email:
- election judges: from $11 to $13 per hour;
- presiding clerk at each early voting site: from $12 to $13 per hour;
- election day clerks: from $10 to $12 per hour; and
- early voting clerks: from $11 to $12 per hour.
Oldham said this action was driven by a few factors.
"The State of Texas, acting through the political parties, reimburses $12 per hour for election day judges [and] clerks in primary elections," he said. " Fort Bend County has always made up the difference between the amount the state reimbursed and ... the wages set by the county. The parties, and hence the workers,were aware that the state raised the recommended wage to $12."
He said the state does not reimburse counties for early voting workers' wages during primaries or in other elections.
"The court did not have to [increase the wages] but felt it was fair, especially since the same people were going to be learning a new voting system this spring," Oldham said.