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New voting machines would help disabled
  Wharton County approves letter of intent to buy 26 machines to comply with Help Americans Vote Act

April 28, 2005
Victoria Advocate

WHARTON - The Wharton County could have 26 new voting machines by November.

 On Monday the commissioners court approved a letter of intent to purchase new voting machines from ES&S AutoMARK and asked for a November delivery to comply with the Help Americans Vote Act.

According to the federal voting act, counties must have at least one voting machine designed for use by disabled people for each voting precinct by Jan. 1, 2006.

The Wharton commissioners are ordering 26 machines, one for each of the 22 voting precincts and four backup units.

"This does not actually commit us to buying these particular machines," Wharton County Judge John Murrile said. "It only informs the company of the number that we are going to need to give them some idea as to how many they are going to have to produce to fill all orders."

The machines ordered by the county cost $5,400 each. The county has $54,000 set aside in this year's budget for the machines. It has also received various grants that should cover the remaining cost of the equipment. The judge said that if the county purchases the machines from ES&S, it would have to pay for them within 30 days of receiving the machines.

In addition to the new machines, the commissioners have approved creating a county elections administrator office. That office would handle all county elections as well as organize and conduct elections for the county's other taxing entities, including cities, school districts, utility districts, the West Wharton County Hospital district and Wharton County Junior College district.

"Under the new laws, we could only lease the equipment to other entities for $5 per machine," he said. "With an election administrator, those entities can contract with the county for the cost of the election and up to 10 percent for administrative fees. We had a meeting and brought in officials from the other entities and they agreed with the arrangement. It keeps them from having to buy their own machines and tabulators, which is another $50,000 expense."

Murrile said county officials have met with officials in the Victoria County elections office and will pattern its office along the same lines.

In other business, the commissioners also approved resolutions honoring three long-time employees. They are Chona Longoria, 25 years; Kathy Quintero, 26 years; and Mary Arredondo, 28 years. All three work in the County Tax Assessor Collector's office.

"I think that longevity says a lot about Wharton County," Murrile said. "These are people who obviously like their jobs, like living in Wharton County and have a good working relationship with the people of the county."

Murrile added that such long terms of service are more common in smaller population counties like Wharton.

"I've been employed by the county for 35 years and the county clerk (Sandra Sanders) has been here for 32 years," he said. "It's not that unusual for counties our size and for certain departments. You don't have a lot of people taking these positions to get the experience to move on to another job."

The commissioners also approved working with Halff Associates concerning prioritizing the county's flood abatement projects. Halff is serving as the county's engineers for the countywide drainage project and will look at establishing a schedule of work based on the project. Murrile said most of the projects currently on the list are located in Precinct 4 in the El Campo area.

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