Elections

New $11 million electronic voting machines should greet Tarrant voters in November

How to use an early voting machine

Here is a short lesson in how to use the electronic voting machines used in the Tarrant County early voting locations. A former election administrator explains the system. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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Here is a short lesson in how to use the electronic voting machines used in the Tarrant County early voting locations. A former election administrator explains the system. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

Tarrant County leaders on Tuesday signed off on an $11 million plan for new electronic voting machines that could be in place as soon as November.

County commissioners unanimously approved buying 3,000 machines, part of Austin-based Hart InterCivic’s Verity line, despite some concerns voiced by a handful of voters.

“I think we made the right choice on the voting equipment,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said after the vote. “It’s critical to get these machines in ... before we move into the 2020 elections.”

The county received bids from Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic and Dominion Voting Systems, and a panel of 13 election and county workers spent months evaluating and ranking the machines, Elections Administrator Heider Garcia said.

But not everyone agreed that the county made the right choice.

Seven voters asked county commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday morning to not move forward with the purchase of this equipment.

“We need to make sure the users of those machines have an opportunity to kick the tires, so to speak,” said Elizabeth Beck, of Fort Worth, a Democratic candidate for the Texas Legislature. “Several counties have gone with ES&S at a higher price. ... When it comes to our ability to vote, I want to make sure we are not skimping.”

Ben Daniels, a Haltom City voter, said this purchase affects every voter in Tarrant County.

“Why (did other counties) choose the ES&S system over the Hart system?” he asked. “What do they know that we do not?”

Whitley and Garcia said the Hart machines county officials approved buying on Tuesday were not offered to some other counties because they are so new.

And Hart, he said, is a trusted vendor that has provided the election machines Tarrant County uses for more than a decade.

Vote centers

Garcia said he’s heading to Austin on Wednesday to submit the county’s application for vote centers, which let voters cast ballots at any polling place in the county on Election Day.

His deadline to apply is Aug. 22. The state’s deadline to respond is Sept. 12.

The machines must arrive in Tarrant County in September so there is time to train election workers and anyone in the public who is interested before the Nov. 5 constitutional amendment election, Garcia said.

“I think people can rest assured we made a good choice,” he said. “We feel very comfortable.”

Hart machines

Approved Tuesday was the purchase of Hart InterCivic’s Verity voting machines that include a touch screen, paper trail and scanners. The machines have been approved for use by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Voters will use a touchscreen to review the ballot and make their choices. The machine will print a list of the candidates chosen. After reviewing votes on the sheet, voters must put their paper ballot into one of the scanners to formally cast their vote and drop it into the ballot box.

County officials said it was key to have new election equipment in place before the 2020 presidential election, which is expected to draw large crowds to the polls.

“I would not recommend going in to 2020 on 15-year-old machines,” Garcia said.

The Hart InterCivic eSlate machines used in Tarrant County are more than a decade old.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.
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