County Commissioners Purchase New Voting Machines, Adopt Voter Center Model

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The ExpressVote machine features the same familiar touch screen Bexar County residents are accustomed to using.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

County commissioners unanimously approved a $12.9 million agreement for new voting machines and 10 years of maintenance support.

County commissioners approved the purchase of new voting machines, agreed to move toward a voter center model for the November election, and gave the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office the go-ahead to negotiate for body cameras.

New Voting Machines Purchased

County commissioners unanimously approved a $12.9 million agreement for new voting machines and 10 years of maintenance support. The commissioners gave Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen and Bexar County purchasing agent Mary Quinones the authority to negotiate the contract with Election Systems & Software (ES&S) back in March.

The commissioners also approved $537,067 to buy tables and carts to transport the new voting equipment, as the machines will not fit in the old carts, Quinones explained.

“These old carts that will no longer work for our new equipment, we already worked out that we will be metal recycling those,” Quinones said. “So we’ll get a return on our investment.”

ES&S will accept the old machines, which gives Bexar County some trade-in discount on the new machines as well. The county purchased the old machines 17 years ago, Callanen said.

The new machines have a touch screen and will give voters largely the same experience they already have with the machines used today, Callanen said. But now, the machines will provide a paper copy of their ballot.

The ExpressVote machine dispenses a printed slip of your ballot choices to be verified and inserted into the DS200 machine.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The ExpressVote machine dispenses a printed slip of your ballot choices to be verified and inserted into the DS200 machine.

“It prints out a card, and it shows you every person you voted for,” she said. “Then [voters] take that card after they validated it and put it in a scanner.”

The paper copy allows the elections department to refer to paper votes in case of a recount, Callanen said.

Voters can see the new machines at all early voting sites for the June 8 runoff. Early voting starts May 28 and runs through June 4.

Vote Anywhere in Bexar County in November

Commissioners voted against leasing extra scanners for a year, an option that would only be necessary if the county intended to keep all precinct poll sites open for future election days for the next year, Callanen said. By not leasing extra equipment, commissioners effectively adopted the voter center model, where voters can go to any location on election day to vote.

Voter centers are also known as super precincts. The Texas Legislature first allowed Lubbock County to try using super precincts in 2006 and expanded the program in 2011 to allow counties to implement super precincts in countywide election precincts.

County Judge Nelson Wolff called Callanen the state’s most knowledgeable elections administrator, and lauded the elections department for the move toward voter centers.

“While the Texas Legislature does its best to suppress voting, I think we took a major step today to encourage voting,” he said.

Callanen said the department aims to cut the 300 or so precincts that are currently open on election day to 260. Wolff expressed his amazement at the prospect of more people, unhindered by precinct location, voting on election day.

“That’s never been done,” he said. “That, to me, would be a great help to getting voter turnout.”

Body Cameras Company Chosen

Commissioners also gave the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office approval to negotiate a contract for body and dashboard cameras with Axon, a company from Scottsdale, Arizona. The county has been trying to use body-worn and in-car dashboard cameras for years, adding funding for cameras to the commissioners’ 2016 budget after two deputies fatally shot a 41-year-old man.

James Serrato, assistant chief deputy and chief of staff to Sheriff Javier Salazar, assured commissioners that accidental and purposeful video deletion would be very difficult to accomplish on Axon cameras.

“The policy and camera system allows us to set thresholds for users and permissions so only the absolute top users – the administrators – would be able to do that,” he explained.

Salazar added that if an unauthorized user deleted video footage, they would face criminal charges for tampering with evidence.

Serrato said he did not have an estimate for how much the cameras would cost. The contract the sheriff’s office is pursuing with Axon would be for 550 cameras.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) abstained from voting on the item and said he did not feel that Axon was the best choice. The sheriff’s department also evaluated cameras from the Dallas-based company WatchGuard.

Sheriff Deputies Overtime Approved

Salazar also requested pay for 43,000 hours of mandatory overtime for his deputies working at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. He assured commissioners his office was doing their best to alleviate the need for overtime pay.

“We’re recruiting like crazy,” he said. “We recently lowered our hiring age to 18. And we started doing a different sort of training with our deputies … we’re putting them through a one-week orientation course [working] in the jail. What that allows us to do is hang on to these folks, they’re not applying to other agencies while we’re waiting for academy to start.”

Commissioners approved the measure unanimously.

5 thoughts on “County Commissioners Purchase New Voting Machines, Adopt Voter Center Model

  1. Why fix what wasn’t broke? What was broken about the old machines? Yes, they were old but they still worked, they didn’t slow down the counts and they didn’t slow down the voting process. With all the complaining on high taxes, let’s use our tax dollars more wisely.

    Oh, and now I have to print my ballot for possibly others to see? And why do I have to scan in my paper ballot? Did the machine I printed the paper ballot on not process my vote? I’m sure it only adds a few seconds to the process but why add more steps instead of finding a way to reduce steps/time? The money would be better spent trying to find a way to speed up the voting lines which are only hindered by the slow machines used to check us in.

    • The problem with the old machines was not the process or the way the entire system was designed. The problem is that they are aging and do not always work as expected.
      As an example, the site where I worked the last election had one machine fail — five minutes prior to the closing of the polls. The power cable from the internal power brick inside the case going to the actual voting unit failed, throwing out sparks when touched, it was uncomfortable for me. The power problem apparently fried some of the internal parts of the unit. It was taken downtown in an attempt to recover the votes from the machine.
      In addition, the voting machines were heavy and awkward to set up. The aluminum legs have bungee cord-like internal straps, only they were stretched out and fell apart when putting the units in the operational position — awkward and somewhat risky for both man and machine.
      The carts, which are going to the shredder were large, awkward, and dangerous in the way the door was removed. Good riddance.

      As far as the newer system operates – it is a bit strange/different in a way, I agree.
      You sign in the same way as before. You are handed what looks like a blank piece of paper which will be used as a ballot. You insert the paper into a unit much like the ones we use now and select the candidates you like (or dis-like the least). You have not yet voted! The unit spits out the paper for you to verify your selections. You have not yet voted! Then, you insert the printed and verified ballot into a tabulating unit. The machine scans the votes and keeps the printed ballot for use in possible recounts. _Now_ you have voted!
      As an aside, the printed ballot cannot be traced back to you. As I understand it, the bar code information on the ballot only shows the ballot style and precinct number
      At the end of the evening, the tabulating machine transfers a copy of the day’s voting onto a small device (think thumb drive but more than that). The judges pack up everything just as we do now. The judge takes the thumb drive and a few other materials to a regional sending site and is done. The remainder of the process is quite like before.
      As far as voting in super precincts goes – it will be quite similar to the model we are using for early voting. It apparently will be around 15% of the current sites going away.

  2. Not impressed with this reporting. If the Rivard Report just wants to be the PR organ of the County, I’m sure they’re pleased. If you want to represent all sides in a public policy issue, you missed the fact that local access is being denied by closing neighborhood polling sites, as well as the security concerns with the purchased ES&S system.

  3. Why is this news about body and dashboard cameras buried in an article about voting machines and polling sites? I understand that the common thread is decisions adopted at a meeting of Commissioners Court, but separate issues merit coverage in separate articles.

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