On heels of voting machine problems, Hays County moves toward paperless

Hays County Elections Advisory Committee looks to go forward will all electronic voting machines. (KXAN Photo)
Hays County Elections Advisory Committee looks to go forward will all electronic voting machines. (KXAN Photo)

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Hays County is looking to change the way people will be voting, and some aren’t so pleased with the decision. The county could be making a move towards everything being electronic.

Last Tuesday, the Hays County Elections Advisory Committee presented new voting machines as options for future elections. The committee narrowed the field of vendors to Hart and ES&S. Both vendors presented their equipment to the public and answered questions.

On Wednesday, the advisory committee voted to present the Hart Varity Touch machine to county commissioners. The machine is the only one presented that does not have a paper ballot option.

Since Hays County election officials found out more than 1,800 votes went uncounted in November’s election, a group of residents began calling for paper ballots.

“For me, it’s really important that we vote and that we have a record of our vote on a piece of paper,” said Hays County Resident Abbe Waldman Delozier.

Delozier says it’s all about accountability. “Our election department needs to be run like a bank. It has to have receipts, it has to have audits, it has to have paper,” she said.

The Hays County Elections advisory committee presented new machines to the public, some with only a paper option, some only electronic and others a mixture of both. Within a day, the committee picked the only option that was paperless.

“The reason that the committee went ahead with the DRE (direct recording electronic voting machine) selection is because we do have a number of voters who would also like to see Hays County go to vote centers,” said Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson.

Anderson says the county had many voters show up to the wrong precinct or polling place last election and were turned away. She says if Hays County implemented voting centers, a voter can go to any polling place in the county on Election Day.

“It has been shown to increase voter turnout and voter participation,” said Anderson. She says the law only allows DRE voting machines at voting centers and explicitly bans paper-based systems.

“It’s just the way the laws are right now, they don’t really allow for us to use paper without many challenges, so what we really need is some legislative change,” said Anderson.

Anderson adds that paper ballots would also cause problems during early voting. “You cannot use precinct scanners at early voting centers right now for paper ballots. So, as I said, if we had paper ballots we would be bringing paper back to Hays County like we did when we had punch cards and everything else. We would be bringing them in ballot boxes back to be counted at central count. In the November election, close to 60 percent of our votes were in early voting, so that would be a lot of human activity with paper again,” she said.

For those like Delozier, voting centers are not a solution. “Voting centers are being pushed all over by officials because it makes their job easier. It allows for no transparency nor back up paper ballots,” she said. “The solution is to have early voting at each individual precinct on a more limited early voting schedule on say two weekends before an election.”

Anderson says the machine up for discussion can always be upgraded to accept paper ballots in the future.

“If it was me, I would be hand counting paper ballots because it could be done at the precinct level and we citizens would be running our own elections and knowing that we got it right on election night,” said Delozier.

The elections administrator will be presenting their decision to commissioners’ court as early as July 5. Commissioners can then decide to go forward or look at other options.

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