Fort Bend County voters will likely begin seeing updated voting machines for the May 2020 election.
“We don’t see any way to feasibly do this prior to the March primary and do it correctly,” Elections Administrator John Oldham said. “My first target date is the May  elections.”
Fort Bend County Commissioners Grady Prestage of Precinct 2 and Andy Meyers of Precinct 3 along with Oldham served on a committee to select a company to provide the updated equipment. During a Sept. 3 Commissioners Court meeting, Elections Systems and Software was recommended as the best option by the committee.
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, Oldham said.
The cost to implement the system will be cheaper than what the county was projecting due to competition, Oldham said. What would have cost as much as $12 million is costing the county $7.8 million, an amount approved by Commissioners Court during an Oct. 8 meeting.
“I think the public has been well served by this process,” Oldham said. “The winners here are the taxpayers and the county because we’re going to save a significant sum of money.”
Elections Systems and Software was up against Hart InterCivic when the committee was deciding which company to choose.
“We were presented two voting systems; both are kind of interesting,” Fort Bend County Judge KP George said. “Obviously, the cost is going to be an important factor.”
With the new voting system, voters will use a touch-screen device to cast their ballots, and then a paper ballot will be printed and turned in to poll workers and run through scanners for tabulation. The county will gain 300 scanners, Oldham said.
Voters will not be provided a copy of the ballot to keep, Oldham said.
“Keeping a copy is not a good idea in any circumstance because that opens the door to an employer wanting to see it, a political party wanting to see it, or a candidate wanting to see it,” he said. “These are all things that could result in harm to a voter.”
The county has 1,150 functional machines, and the new system will include 1,700 machines, Oldham said. Voters will likely see five new polling locations to offset straight-party voting ending, Oldham said.
One reason the system will likely not be ready until the May 2020 election is poll workers will need to be trained to use the new equipment. Edith Palmer, who has volunteered to work at polling locations in Missouri City, said she is looking forward to getting the new equipment.
“[I] think the new machines will be a better system. I like the paper trail,” Palmer said.
Additionally, the county will need space to store all of the equipment, Oldham said.
“The county’s going to have to secure us some place to receive and prepare the equipment until perhaps down the road we do a facilities bond,” he said.