The ‘best of both worlds’: McLennan County’s new voting machines will feature paper ballots cast by hand

The county has had the same electronic voting machines since 2005
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 12:59 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - For McLennan County, the future...is the past.

A new state law is requiring some Texas counties to buy new voting machines: McLennan County is one of them.

“I think it’s going to be a new system that’s going to be very easy for our voters to learn,” said Jared Goldsmith, Elections Administrator for McLennan County.

‘Easy’...because most local voters have done it before.

Come next Spring, voters will go back in time, returning to the days when they marked paper ballots by hand...before they get submitted electronically.

“We’re looking at what’s called a ‘hand-marked ballot system,’” said Goldsmith. “The voter is going to go in, we’re going to print out there ballot for them there at the vote center, and then they’ll take the pen, mark their ballot with pen on the paper, and then actually deposit their ballot into a ballot scanner before they leave.”

Goldsmith says it’s the best of both worlds: paper voting with electronic counting.

“I think a lot of people, they trust the paper system, they like the paper, I like the paper,” said Goldsmith. “It still has an electronic element to make things quick and efficient for us.”

The move is all because of Senate Bill 598: Texas’ response to election integrity efforts amid nationwide allegations of election fraud in recent years.

The new state law, passed with bipartisan support last summer, requires counties have voter-verifiable paper ballots by November 2026 to ensure a paper audit trail.

“We need to make sure that we’re in compliance with that because our current systems, they’re electronic only,” said Goldsmith.

McLennan County has had the same electronic “wheel” voting machines since 2005.

Last summer, the county was looking to replace the machines with a hybrid voting system where voters put a piece of paper into an electronic machine, use a touch screen to make their selections, then print it out.

“That was the only thing that was available to us, a county that uses vote centers, until last year when there were some changes in the law that allows us to use this hand-marked ballot option,” said Goldsmith. “I like the hand-marked ballot option better because it’s easier, it’s easier for the voters to learn, it’s easier for our poll workers to set up, and the logistics of it just worked better for our county, and that’s why we’re going in that direction.”

It’s also a less expensive direction to go in.

“We’re looking at close to a million dollars cheaper than the original system we were looing at,” said Goldsmith.

The new machines are priced between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000, he says.

While being cost-efficient is important, he says the main goals with the new machines are security and confidence.

“That’s the most important thing, is it will be secure,” said Goldsmith. “Making sure we have the confidence of voters is of the utmost importance to myself and my team here in McLennan county.”

He says the machines they’re looking at go through ‘rigorous’ testing.

“It has to go through certain certifications and make sure that it’s never connected to the internet, not connected to any kind of internal or external network, it’s on its own isolated system,” said Goldsmith.

On Tuesday morning, McLennan County Commissioners will see presentations on two potential machines: ES&S’ Ballot on Demand, a company out of Nebraska, or the Hart InterCivic Verity Print, a company out of Austin.

“Both vendors will show it off, we’ll give a recommendation on which system we think is the best, and the commissioners will have the final say,” said Goldsmith.

Whichever machine is picked, however, will not be used in the upcoming November Election.

“When voters go to vote in November, they can expect to use the same voting equipment they used before,” said Goldsmith.

The plan is to have the new machines in use in May 2023, he says.

“We’re going to do a lot of voter education to make sure they understand ‘this is what you’re doing, this is how you use it,’” said Goldsmith.

He says going back to the basics of paper voting has been the trend across America.

“That’s kind of the theme that election officials have seen all across the country actually,” said Goldsmith. “We’re one of the last states that allows electronic voting here in Texas, so I think it’s going to be great to go back to a hand-marked, paper ballot.”

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