Texas needs new voting machines but will the state pay for them?

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When many Texas counties bought their latest voting machines, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears just broke up, Nickelback topped the music charts, and President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law. The year was 2002.

Most county officials bought machines after Florida fumbled the 2000 election and Congress passed the Help America Vote Act.

In 2018, county voting machines confused many Texans who accidentally changed their votes after machines took several seconds to populate results, “Connection issues” plagued Hays County, and voting machines temporarily malfunctioned in Williamson County.

Several Texas lawmakers filed bills to require new voting machines but one Central Texas lawmaker thinks the state should help pay for them. 

Austin Democrat Celia Israel filed House Bill 362 to create a Voting System Fund in the Secretary of State’s Office.

“This is one way to call attention to the fact that the machines are antiquated,” said Rep. Israel, D-Austin, “Running the election is one thing but running the election when we double in size every ten years is a strain on the machinery and a strain on the system.”

Three large companies make machines and the cost can be high. Williamson County alone plans on buying new machines at more than $4.5 million dollars next year. The county’s election administrator Christopher Davis told KXAN other counties don’t have the money.

“The state coming in to help, she’s on to something. She’s (Israel) right that this would be welcome to a whole host of counties. There are a lot of counties that are in need of upgrading to the next generation,” said Davis.

Edgewood Republican Bob Hall and Fort Worth Democrat Ramon Romero filed two other bills requiring all voting machines to be upgraded in the years ahead.

Lawmakers begin their legislative session this January. 

This is not a new problem. In July, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos sent a letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission detailing how the recent Help America Vote Act funds were “not nearly sufficient to replace voting systems on a statewide basis.”

Between 2003 and 2012, Texas counties received $150 from HAVA passed through the state.

Pablos wrote that any statewide overhaul “would require a substantially larger federal commitment in order to make a meaningful impact on subsidizing the costs to the counties in their efforts to modernize their voting equipment.” 

The Texas secretary of state estimates new machines for the three largest counties would cost $50 million dollars.

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