Harris County residents who vote in the upcoming May 1 elections will be the first to use the county's new voting machines, known as the Hart InterCivic Inc. Verity Voting Systems.

On Jan. 26, with an expenditure of $54 million, the Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously authorized the purchase of 12,000 new machines and entered into a one-year contract agreement with Hart InterCivic, Inc. that will be in effect until Jan. 25, 2022. The agreement also includes 11 one-year renewal options.

According to Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria, the county has been working to purchase new voting machines since fall 2019 with the goal of implementing a new system by May 2021.

According to Longoria, Hart InterCivic Inc. and Election Systems & Software are the only two voting equipment companies certified by the Texas Secretary of State's Office. The county vetted both options prior to selecting Hart InterCivic Inc., an Austin-based company that designs and manufactures its voting machines in Texas.

According to Longoria, the new machines differ from those previously used in Harris County in that they feature a digital touch screen as well as a paper copy of the voter's selections that the voter can verify before submitting the ballot into a secure on-site ballot box.

Longoria said the new system will provide more security for voters through the collection of paper ballots and triple data backup that allows for easier election audit tracking. The machines will also offer more accessibility for voters, Longoria said, as they feature Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible controls and screen toggling features that make for an easier, faster voting experience.

"My commitment to Harris County voters is to provide an open, transparent and accountable voting process—moving to the Hart InterCivic Verity Voting System does just that by giving voters a more accessible, secure and verifiable ballot to improve the voting experience for all Harris County voters," Longoria said in a statement.

The system first made its debut in Texas across six counties, including Tarrant County, for the Nov. 5, 2019 elections and will debut in Harris County for the May 1 elections. According to a Jan. 26 news release from the Harris County Office of the Elections Administrator, the first 2,300 machines will be delivered to Harris County by March 1.

"My goal is to use the coming weeks to learn and train staff about the Hart voting machines and offer all Harris County voters the opportunity to learn more about the new features," Longoria said. "We will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating timelines to make sure we are ready for May elections. However, [we will] only [do so] if my staff feels we can do so while providing the continuity of service, ease and accessibility that you all as voters expect."