Harris Co. approves plan for more eSlate machines

August 30, 2010 4:11:37 PM PDT
There are new developments on the desperate scramble to get ready for the November elections in Harris County, following last week's massive fire. As investigators search for the cause of that fire which destroyed nearly all of the county's voting machines, a plan to keep this election on track has been approved. But the question remains, will it work?

County commissioners call this a "public calamity" and "urgent public necessity." Doing so allows them to be exempt from normal bidding requirements and to move forward with the purchase of new voting machines.

Commissioners unanimously voted the purchase, lease or seek another replacement for eSlate voting machines.

"You have to do what you have to do in a circumstance like this, and we have an election to conduct on November 2," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

The fire at Harris County's Election Technology Center destroyed nearly all of its voting machines; 10,000 pieces of equipment with an estimated value of $30 million. That left the county scrambling.

County Clerk Beverly Kaufman has asked some surrounding counties for help, and now the secretary of state is asking municipalities around the state to share what machines they can.

"We're getting 10 here, 20 there, 100 here, and it's just not going to add up to all we need," said Kaufman.

The good news is insurance covers the losses from the fire. Kaufman now has approval to contract for 2,600 eSlate machines to replace some of those lost. She's not sure if they will eventually have enough to cover every precinct on Election Day.

Where they don't have enough machines, the county has now approved use of paper ballots. Some elected leaders have written a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling for heightened scrutiny of this process.

"We just want to be clear as members that we protect the rights of all voters and particularly are concerned about consolidation of precincts," said Rep. Garnett Coleman (D) of Houston.

Consolidating, or reducing the number of places one can vote, is something Kaufman guarantees will not happen.

County leaders also say they're in somewhat of a bind because early voting days and hours, by law, cannot be extended. They encourage you to vote early to avoid any snafus that might happen Election Day.


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