Hybrid voting machines approved by county leaders

Hays County’s quest for a new voting machine ended Tuesday when commissioners approved Hart Intercivic’s hybrid system, complete with a paper ballot. 

County commissioners July 30 approved the Hart system by a 4-1 vote with County Judge Ruben Becerra casting the lone dissenting vote. Council leaders had two vendors to choose from, the other being a machine manufactured by ES&S. Both machines received approval from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

The county’s current Direct Recording-Electronic (DRE) voting devices are serviced by Hart, but the new machines offer a paper ballot to review before it is entered into a scanner.

A key component of the decision revolved around access for voters with disabilities. However, there were different opinions on the dais and from members of the audience about which system would better accommodate people with disabilities. 

Resident Susan Raybuck said county poll workers preferred the ES&S system over Hart Intercivic. 

Raybuck said the ES&S system was more simple, intuitive and easy for poll workers to manage. 

“Many came to that workshop and were quite overwhelming in favor of the express votes features (ES&S),” she said. “They thought it was easier, they thought it was secure, and I did not hear the same level of approval over the Hart system…” 

Travis County recently purchased the ES&S system, so Raybuck said that could have been a great resource for the county. 

Hart’s system was recently approved by the Secretary of State this year. Raybuck argued ES&S was the only company with experience in Texas elections. 

Some members of the commissioners court said they believed the Hart system would better suit voters with disabilities. 

Commissioner Mark Jones said he liked both systems but was in favor of Hart’s machines. 

For curbside voters, Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said the county removed the DRE proposal. 

Both companies’ machines can operate as a traditional DRE system, which can be used in curbside voting. 

However, Anderson said members of the ADA community were not in favor of the DRE system and wanted to have access to a paper trail just like the rest of the population.

“We took that out and I contacted the state on how we can come up with a process that could be fair to curbside voters,” Anderson said. “We will pick a system out. So for our process, we’ll have one unit on a rolling cart we can roll out.”

Anderson said both machines have a great reputation. The county budgeted $2 million for the machines. 

County commissioners had documentation on the cost of each company’s machine; those documents were not available in the agenda packet on the county website.

However, Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith said the Hart system was around $1.9 million.

Prices provided to commissioners are subject to negotiation, said Hays County General Counsel Mark Kennedy. 

Ultimately, the decision came down to preference as commissioners cited good feedback with both machines.

“They both checked all of my boxes as far as security,” said Hays county IT Director Jeff McGill. “I’m comfortable with the security on each one. So, it’s a win for the county either way.” 

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