The Denton County Commissioner’s Court approved the $8.7 million purchase of new Verity paper voting machines during their meeting June 20. County elections administrator Frank Phillips, who highly recommended the purchase, said he expects them to be ready for this November’s constitutional election.
The purchase comes on the heels of a 2016 election cycle that was marred by technical problems. The previous elections administrator, Lannie Noble, retired directly afterward. Programming errors during early voting saw many citizens turned away, and filing errors on Election Day caused new ballots to be mixed with ones that had already been counted. County votes had to be recounted — twice.
While officials have stated many times this was all a result of human error, Phillips said the new machines will help eliminate opportunities for that error and speed up any recounts that might be necessary. The Verity machines print out ballots for individual voters at the polls, eliminating the need for pre–printing ballots, which Phillips said causes paper waste, as well as the potential for voters to be presented with the wrong ballots, something else that went wrong for the county in 2016.
“The new system will be a true ‘ballot on demand’ system,” he said. “The best thing about the system is if we need to have a recount we go back to the actual ballot filled out by the voter. If all paper ballot had been available [in November], the recount would have been almost immediate.”
At the county commissioner’s meeting, both Denton County Republican and Democratic party chairs, Lisa Hendrickson and Phyllis Wolper, spoke in favor of bringing in new machines. Hendrickson said upgrading the machines is vital accountability for the county after the difficulties of the last cycle.
“One of the things that gave us grace was they noted our old machines,” she said. “So now that we know there is such a problem, my concern is that if we move forward without replacing those machines, have another issue, and the Secretary of State comes back to us and says, ‘So you knew you had a problem, you didn’t address it, and now you want grace again?'”
Phillips also said the quantity of machines will help speed up lines at the polling booths and insure against technical errors — he said the county has about 600 of the current electronic voting machines, but they’re ordering 1,300 of the Verity machines.
“Not only are we getting new equipment, we’re getting a lot more than we had of our old system,” Phillips said. “We’re at the point now with our old system that when we have a huge election like the presidential, we have literally four or five spares hanging around because we’d have to send it all out. Hopefully this should remedy that situation too, where we’ll have plenty of spares on standby.”
Verity is manufactured by Hart Intercivic, which manufactured the old machines as well. The county has been working with Hart since 2005. The company is based in Austin, which was listed as an advantage in the meeting’s executive summary.
The initial purchase cost of the machines is an estimated $8.7 million. IPads, which are necessary to work with the poll pad system, bring the first year cost to $8.9 million. Annual licensing and support costs bring the total expense over the first four years of the system to a little more than $9.9 million. Phillips said the county will need to buy more ballot stock with the system, but since the ballots are printed on-site by the machines, they can buy blank ballot stock, which he said is about a third of the cost of printed stock.
The June 20 meeting’s executive summary notes that buying the machines now will allow poll workers to have already had a full election’s experience with them by the 2018 general elections.