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Voting equipment purchase postponed
By Karen Gleason
Del Rio News-Herald  
Published July 22, 2005

On the advice of the county clerk, who oversees Val Verde County elections, commissioners court voted Thursday to postpone a decision on the purchase of equipment aimed at making voting easier for the disabled.

During a special meeting of the Val Verde County Commissioners Court Thursday morning, County Clerk Maria Elena Cardenas told County Judge Mike L. Fernandez and the four county commissioners that $317,676.72 has been allocated to Val Verde County through the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Cardenas said two vendors, Hart Intercivic and ES&S, have demonstrated their equipment to her.

Cardenas said Hart Intercivic has several pieces of equipment she likes, including an item called ?E-Scan.?

The E-Scan, Cardenas said, would give the county the ability to provide precision counting of ballots at each precinct and eliminate the need for a central counting station.

The problem, she said, is that the E-Scan counter has not been certified by the Secretary of State.

Cardenas said she would prefer to wait until the equipment is certified before buying it.

?I just don?t feel confident buying equipment that has not been certified,? Cardenas said.

The other vendor, ES&S, is the manufacturer of the optical scanner the county now uses to ballots, Cardenas said.

She added that this company also has several pieces of equipment she likes.

Cardenas said the company makes an upgraded optical scanner like the one now used by the county but said she has not heard from the Secretary of State?s office whether the county may use HAVA funds to purchase it.

?I still have several questions that I have to pose to both vendors, especially on the ability of both their machines to produce ballots in case there is a recount,? Cardenas said.

?I agree with Ms. Cardenas that we need something that?s going to leave a paper trail,? County Commissioner Precinct 1 Ramiro V. Ramon said.

Ramon added, ?I also want to see that it is made very clear that this is not something we?re doing because commissioners court thought it was a good idea. This is because of a federal mandate.?

County Commissioner Precinct 3 Beau Nettleton also said that he felt the county should not purchase equipment that has not been certified by the state.

Nettleton also said he wants to make sure the county uses the $300,000 allocated under HAVA.

He said the money was to be used not just for the purchase of new equipment, but also for training.

?We?re going to have to re-educate all of the voters in this county,? Nettleton said.

Nettleton added that voters must be reassured that ?they will be able to vote as they always have.?

Cardenas suggested a training demonstration of the new equipment that could possibly set up at a high-traffic area like WalMart, to give local voters a chance to use and to become familiar with the new machines.

Fernandez said he, too, was concerned that voters become familiar with the new machines.

?And I?m very concerned because I?m going to be on that ballot,? Fernandez joked.

Cardenas said the county has until Aug. 6, 2006 to comply with HAVA deadlines.

Ramon added that the focus of the mandate was disabled voters, not the general public.

?We?ll make a decision when we have all the information,? Fernandez said before the court voted.

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