Local Leaders Lobby For and Against Voting Receipts

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Since 2003, Brazos County elections have been done without paper being involved in the process. The county spent about $1.5 million dollars to purchase 480 E-slate electronic voting machines.

But a Washington County state representative is proposing paper return to elections. Lois Kolkhorst represents Washington County, and has presented the state election committee with House Bill 384. The bill would mandate that electronic voting machines could not be used in any election unless it provided a voter-verified permanent paper record that would be acceptable in an audit.

College Station City Secretary Connie Hooks says if the bill passes, the machines would be retro-fitted or adapted with hardware to produce paper hard copies of voting summaries for city and county election administrations.

"A device on the voting machine [would] print out a receipt, so to speak, of the votes that they cast for each individual candidate or proposition," Hooks said.

Hooks is also the election administrator for College Station. She, along with other College Station, Bryan, and Brazos County officials, are against the bill.

A small delegation travelled to Austin on Wednesday to testify before state election committee members. They wanted the committee to hear the reasons for their opposition before a decision was made.

County Judge Randy Sims says the cost to modify all the electronic voting machines in Brazos County would be over $500,000. That price tag would be for the hardware alone. Hooks said that number would increase when the support materials are added.

"You have storage issues, shipping cost, software upgrades and then of course that would be passed on to other entities," Hooks said.

As the bill stands now, there is no state or national funding from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to facilitate the modifications statewide. The act had provided federal funding that paid for 95 percent of the new electronic voting machines in Texas. Hooks says that means the cost would be passed on to tax payers.

Judge Sims said if the bill passes, it is conceivable that the cost to Washington County would not be comparable to Brazos County's. The reason, Sims says, is because there is just one electronic voting machine in each of Washington County's voting precincts. In addition, some members of the local opposition say the paper voting receipts could compromise voters' privacy if receipts are not kept confidential, secured, or disposed of properly.

Sims says the purpose of the bill would not serve Brazos County voters. According to him, there have not been any election problems in the nine elections that have utilized the voting machines that would warrant the need for paper copies to verify votes that have been cast.

Hooks said the paper receipts would be redundant, considering the electronic voting machines already provide a vote summary for voters to look over and verify as they finalize their votes. She also points out that HB 384 states the electronic vote is the official record of the ballot except in the case of a recount.

During Wednesday's hearing, both those for and against the bill addressed the state election committee. The bill is currently under consideration.