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Commissioners paperless voting machine
By Michael Wright
The Facts   

Published July 28, 2005
ANGLETON ? Brazoria County commissioners will consider buying electronic voting machines that don?t leave a paper trail, despite concerns the machines are vulnerable to hackers and produce results that can?t be verified.

Commissioners voted Tuesday to enter negotiations with Hart Intercivic to purchase a direct recording electronic system, commonly called DRE. The expected cost is about $1.9 million, with the federal government kicking in about $1.7 million of that.

The machines would feature a dial voters would turn until the candidate of their choice in a race is highlighted. Similar systems are in use in Harris and Bexar counties.

The county had been considering optical scan machines, which record votes on paper in case a recount is needed, up until about a month ago, said Joyce Hudman, Brazoria County clerk. Hudman, whose office supervises elections in the county, said the cost of optical scan system ? about $1.3 million ? doesn?t make it a better buy if the county has to junk the system in two years and buy a whole new system approved by the state.

?The main thing the county is looking at is what we?ll be able to use three or four years from now,? said Janice Evans, who heads the elections division of the county clerk?s office. ?This is a one-time federal funding.?

The vote Tuesday was based on a recommendation from a committee made up of Pct. 3 Commissioner Jack Harris; Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Stanley; Hudman; Tax Assessor-Collector Ro?Vin Garrett; and two county staff members, Kent Burkett, administrative assistant to County Judge John Willy, and Gene Wittenben, the county?s information systems director.

A new law requires overvotes and undervotes to be reported in each precinct and the optical scan system would require counting machines be set up at every voting location, Hudman said.

?It just wasn?t economical,? she said.

But at least two Brazoria County Democratic Party activists decried the decision to forgo paper trails.

?I think we have violated the confidence of our voters,? said Mary Ruth Rhodenbaugh, who lost a tight race for precinct 4 commissioner in 2002.

The state has certified only one DRE that leaves a paper trial, said Ralph Collins of Freeport, chairman of the South Democratic Club.

But that system wasn?t approved until July 1, Hudman said.

?We had to move on,? she said.

The Help America Vote Act, which allocates the federal funds, requires local governments to have a system to replace punch-card ballots by Jan. 1. Accupoll, the California company that makes the DREs with a paper trail, didn?t respond to a request for proposals, Hudman said.

The commissioners? vote was contingent on keeping an option open to add a paper trail to the machines once Hart has a system certified by the Texas secretary of state.

?I want to see a paper trail,? Willy said.

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