Paper ballots return to Denton

Voters wait to cast ballots in an Austin grocery store in a 2016 election.
Voters wait to cast ballots in an Austin grocery store in a 2016 election. AP

When voters in Denton County head to the polls this fall, they will encounter something surprising in an age consumed by technology — an election conducted entirely by paper ballots.

How arcane! you might say.

But a complete return to paper balloting is not as retrograde as it sounds.

And it’s not a bad move for Denton, especially if the change improves voter access and increases confidence in the election process.

If properly executed, the new voting system should do both.

Paper balloting in the 21st century isn’t a technology–free process.

Denton County has purchased — for a whopping $8.7 million — 1,300 new voting machines that provide “ballots-on-demand.”

“Voters check in, and a bar-code scan identifies the appropriate ballot to print for that voter,” county elections administrator Frank Phillips said.

That should prevent officials from having too many or too few available ballots.

After the ballot is completed, it is scanned and voters are provided the opportunity to check it for errors.

In a news release, Hart InterCivic, the machine manufacturer, says the system operates “independently of the internet,” which should provide additional security protections.

With its new acquisition, Denton will more than double the number of voting machines in use, giving the county plenty on stand-by in the event problems arise.

Problems at the polls drove Denton County election officials to revamp the system in the first place.

November’s election was disaster — with machines set to “test mode” instead of “election mode,” paper ballots that couldn’t be scanned and incorrect vote tabulations.

Human error was to blame, but that provides little conciliation.

Even without the fiasco of 2016, Denton was probably close to needing new machines.

As voting experts explain, today’s voting machines operate on systems not designed to last for decades.

And as technologies continually change, new vulnerabilities are discovered. Concerns over interference by Russia in November’s election come to mind.

Paper ballots are one way to help guard against these problems.

Denton’s new machines are not cheap.

The Lewisville-Texan Journal reports that ancillary costs, including iPads, licensing, support costs and paper, will raise the price of the new voting system to $9.9 million in the first four years of its use.

The cost may be high. But ensuring access and integrity in the election process should be worth it to voters.