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Delays at old jail force housing search for new voting system
The Monitor. June 07,2005, by Victoria Hirschberg

EDINBURG ? Renovation delays at the old jail have left the Hidalgo County Elections Department seeking other storage centers for its new, multi-million dollar voting system.

At first, the secure pods, or cells, at the old jail on Closner were scheduled to be complete by May 31, in line with the county?s purchase of an electronic voting system.

Scheduling conflicts and difficulty connecting the electricity with American Electric Power has delayed the project for an unknown length of time, said Daniel Flores, director of buildings and grounds.

AEP restored the jail?s power last week, said spokesman Frank Espinoza.

"It?s pretty messed up since it hasn?t been used in almost three years," Flores said of the old county jail.

The workers renovating the old jail are also simultaneously doing other county projects, Flores said.

"It?s more of a scheduling problem," he said.

Once the old jail was vacated about three years ago, the county decided to use the existing space for new offices for the buildings and grounds workers, plus secure storage for other departments like the elections administration.

Due to delays, the county now has to secure, climate-controlled commercial storage units in Edinburg to store the new electronic voting system.

"We?re just looking at regular storage climate-controlled units, a huge one," Navarro said.

"It has got to be an area we can still move around in. When the pods are ready, we will move over there."

The Elections Department should receive the new system from Election Systems and Software Inc. ? which includes more than 300 electronic devices plus software ? by the end of June, Navarro said.

Delaying the delivery is not an option, Navarro said, because she is hoping to use the new system in September?s constitutional amendment election.

"I don?t want to delay the delivery of the equipment, because that?s not going to help," she said.

The archaic voting machines, which the county has used since 1968, are stored in a San Carlos warehouse near Edcouch. Once the county scraps the old machines, there would be ample room for the new system in the warehouse, Navarro said. Yet, the county-owned warehouse also needs repair and lacks air-conditioning.

"It?s getting bad," Flores said of the warehouse. "The roofs are leaking in the very back."

Besides the needed repair work at the warehouse, there is not space to store the electronic voting machines as long as the old ones sit in the building, Navarro said.

Several schools and museums have inquired about donations of the old machines, Navarro said, but commissioners? court has not decided what to do with them. She said most counties use the machines for scrap metal.

"We have to do something with them," she said. "They?ve been banned. They can?t be used."


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