Gregg County will not be getting new voting machines in the immediate future, but Gregg County commissioners heard a demonstration from Hart InterCivic about the latest voting technology.
The current voting machines have been in place for 12 years, Gregg County Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy said, and the technology is 15 years old.
“It was just a demonstration,” she said, noting she knows the county is not ready to approve a purchase. “There’s not any talk about bids or purchasing. It was simply a demonstration, so that we can make that first step toward future purchase.”
Although the county will not be purchasing new machines this budget year, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said, the eventual replacement will cost more than a million dollars and is not a decision the commissioners want to make hastily.
Instead, Stoudt and the commissioners want to be “methodical and deliberate” in their decision, which means starting the process early.
The main difference between the new machine and the county’s current machine – also produced by Hart InterCivic – is the selection dial and the enter button, but there are multiple other improvements. The new machine has a touch screen and allows users to increase the size of the text on the screen, to select a language without exiting the ballot and to change the sound for voters using that option.
The new machine also asks voters twice if they want to cast their ballot, allowing voters to confirm their ballot reflects their actual votes.
“Technology changes by light years these days,” Stoudt said, noting the age of the current machines.
Even though he think the machines in use now are good, Stoudt called the new machines “considerably better” when he did a test vote on one.
The process to use the machine is simple, Stoudt said, and he most enjoyed watching election officials for the Republican and Democratic Parties agreeing they enjoyed using the new technology.
Smaller and lighter machines, Nealy said, will be easier for election workers to accommodate disabled voters who are unable to vote at the booths inside the building. They can take a screen out to someone in their car, when necessary, without unscrewing or fear of breaking the circuit. The machines also use a flashing light to show when someone pushes the help button.
The security of the voting system remains the same, though.
“All machines are always tracked,” Nealy said. Each machine is sealed and the serial numbers recorded with both Nealy and the voting location workers signing off on the machine. “They’re sealed going out and sealed coming back.”
As always, she repeated, the machines are not connected to the Internet in any way.
“They never have been and they never will be,” she emphasized. “It’s like trying to hack into your microwave. It’s just like your microwave. It’s a machine. You plug it into the wall and that’s it.”
Although she does not have a concrete time frame for the county to purchase new voting machines, Nealy said, she would like for them to be in place before the 2020 presidential election.
Replacement machines are not in the budget now, and the county will have to plan for the purchase because every machine will have to be replaced at the same time.
“It all works as one unit,” she said.
Before purchasing a new system, Nealy said, the county will also consider other systems.
The process will continue until the county is ready to move forward with a vendor in the next couple of years.