BEEVILLE – Bee County will be making the switch soon to an all-digital voting system.
This comes as county commissioners approved the purchase of $338,383 new machines from Hart Verity Voting.
These 50 machines, 35 touch and 15 for disabled voters, will not be in place for the November election but will be coming to a polling location soon.
“These units will be spread throughout the county as needed, depending on the election,” said Laura Warnix, county elections administrator.
The commissioners court approved combining voting locations into 10 polling locations throughout the county.
“During smaller elections these can be combined down to five locations most convenient to accommodate the voters,” she said.
These new machines come with some added benefits such as portability. Tablets can be taken to the voter if they are unable to come into the election office.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. voiced concern for the lack of paper ballots.
“Elderly people will be intimidated by this,” he said. “You are going to have some people who won’t go vote because they aren’t going to want to mess with this.”
“We have had numbers of elderly coming in saying they want to try it,” Warnix countered.
John Thompson, with Hart, also acknowledged this concern, saying, “I see election equipment every day. Laura sees election equipment every day.
“The average voters sees election equipment one, twice, maybe three times a year, so it can be intimidating.”
For most voters though, this change will be minor.
“As far as the voter experience, it doesn’t change at all. The only difference is now when they try to bang on it to do the touch screen, they can actually touch it and do the touch screen,” Thompson said.
There is an added benefit to this system.
“Once we go electronic, you will be able to vote at any polling location,” said Bee County Judge Stephanie Moreno.
One small change that voters will notice is the lack of paper being used.
“We use a paper combination form now,” Warnix said. “This system will allow them to capture the signature electronically.”
With all of this digital equipment being used, it is important to know that none of it is connected to the internet.
And those viruses that hit computers — they aren’t able to install on these machines.
“There is a list of programs this system can run,” Thompson said. “That is it.
“If anyone were to try and load a program outside of those five programs allowed on these devices, these devices will shut down.
“You cannot put any other programs on there, so you aren’t having to constantly update it for viruses.”
It is worth noting that no voting system is ever connected to the internet.
“The stuff you see in the media are voter registration systems at the state level. Some media outlets still want to call them voting systems,” Thompson said.
While it is not required by the state, the county unanimously approved this purchase because of the age of its machines.
“Our equipment is slowly dying out on us, and they are not making this equipment any more so we cannot even replace it with what we have,” Moreno said. “And we cannot cross-contaminate the equipment. So we have to buy the whole new set.”
“Every few years, you have added a piece here and there,” Thompson said. But now, it is 13 years since that first purchase.
Any fixes made on their current equipment are done with used parts.
“Those systems were meant to last between 10 or 15 years. What is happening is those systems are no longer manufactured,” Thompson said. “Imagine if you have a cell phone built in 2000, you probably cannot find parts anymore.
“As the months and years go by, we are using used parts to fix them.”
The first election voters will see this equipment will be in May.
“We value our partnership with Bee County, and we applaud them for taking this important step forward,” said Phillip Braithwaite, president and CEO of Hart InterCivic, an Austin-based company with more than 100 years of experience providing election solutions. “We look forward to many years of successful elections in the county and know Verity will serve them well.”
Verity equipment, which was purchased by the county from Hart, will arrive in Bee County after the November election.
“We’re planning a series of mock elections to let our voters get their hands on Verity,” Warnix said. “We think they’re going to love it.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5221, or at media@mySouTex.com.