Commissioners delay action on purchasing election equipment
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Dec 03, 2015 | 2540 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Upshur County Commissioners Court on Monday delayed acting on the potential purchase of election equipment which would end most voting by paper ballot, but let voters cast their ballots electronically at any polling place in the county they choose.

The court received a quote from Hart Intercivic of Austin, which furnished the county’s current election equipment, for $272,000, mostly for buying 65 voting machines and seven additional electronic poll books (voter registration lists.) The fee also would cover training County Election Administrator Lory Harle on using the new system.

Ken Trethewey, an account executive with Hart, told the court that counties are either going to “voting centers” or refreshing the election equipment they purchased 10 years ago, a purchase made under the federal Help America Vote Act.

County Judge Dean Fowler said voting centers allow county residents to vote at any polling place in the county, but also eliminate all paper ballots except mailed ones.

Trethewey said that otherwise, the county must print thousands of ballots, which cost 30-33 cents each and some of which would not be used. (After the meeting, he said “paper is more expensive and less secure” than electronic voting.) He told the court that Hart’s proposal included voting centers.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Paula Gentry said she had asked for the quote from Hart just to get an idea of the cost. Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer then said “I’m all for voting centers,” but that the court needed to budget for it and the money was not in the current budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Trethewey said he could arrange for the court to make its initial payment in December 2016. Fowler then said the county’s election equipment is “gonna have to be updated,” and the question was whether to do that now or later.

Gentry said acting now could let the county “start saving in time and money.”

But Pct. 3 Commissioner Frank Berka expressed concern that the court had only received a quote from one firm when there was another business from which commissioners could receive one.

Gentry replied that if the county used someone other than Hart, it must “scrap everything we now have,” a reference to the fact that the county’s current equipment came from Hart.

But Berka and Fowler said they wanted the opportunity to digest Hart’s quote some more, with Fowler saying “it is a significant decision” cost-wise. The judge said the court will discuss it at its Dec. 15 meeting.

After the meeting, Trethewey said Hart will propose buying back the county’s current vote-counting scanners, which could lower the price from the $272,000 quote.

Harle, who discussed the matter briefly with the court, said after the meeting that she had probably had 7,500 paper ballots printed for the recent Nov. 3 elections in the county, but only about 3,300 voted.

The county held three elections that day--a statewide one on seven proposed amendments to the state constitution, an election in justice of the peace precinct one on legalizing certain alcoholic beverage sales in that area, and an election in the Upshur County Emergency Services District on a proposed tax hike for that entity, which covers only part of the county.

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