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Upshur buys electronic voting machines, eyes polling centers

By Christina Lane
Dec. 16, 2015 at 4 a.m.

GILMER — Upshur County is going paperless — for elections that is.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved spending $255,961 to buy 65 electronic voting machines from Hart InterCivic to effectively move the county to an all-electronic voting method beginning with the March primaries.

"This means no paper ballots will be used," Elections Administrator Lory Harle said.

The move also puts the county in position to switch to voting centers instead of precinct polling locations, which could save the county money and provide easier access to voters.

Upshur County commissioners previously have said they would like to pursue voting centers, which allow voters to cast ballots at any location rather than at their designated precinct location.

Rusk County is among the East Texas counties that recently made the switch to voting centers. Elections Administrator Kathie Wittner previously said it makes it easier for voters to cast ballots.

Because there typically are fewer voting centers than precinct polls, it also means the counties save money because they are not having to staff as many locations and keep polling locations up to date for ADA compliance.

In order for a county to switch to having voting centers, however, it first must have an all-electronic voting system. Upshur County's decision to buy the electronic machines puts it in line to allow voting centers. Commissioners will have to vote later to officially establish the voting centers.

Harle said having that many new machines combined with retaining the county's additional 20-plus existing electronic machines also sets the county up to more easily facilitate city and school elections.

For example, cities and schools typically have council and board elections in mid-May, but the runoff election from the March primary also is in late May. Harle said the county will have enough machines now to handle city and school elections and simultaneously also be programming the machines to be used in a runoff. The machines also eliminate costs associated with paper ballots.

In the past nine years, Upshur County has spent more than $41,000 on printing ballots, Harle said. That amount only includes the cost of county elections in November; cities and schools pay for their own paper ballots, and the county's Republican and Democratic parties each pay for the cost of ballots associated with their respective primaries and subsequent runoffs.

The county is financing the $255,961 purchase through Government Capital for five years. The first payment will be due a year from now.

In other elections-related business, commissioners also approved moving Pct. 4 and Pct. 8 polling locations.

Pct. 4 voters had been casting ballots at New Diana schools but will be going to Ashland Masonic Lodge No. 1138, 10478 Texas 154, in Diana.

Pct. 8 voters had been casting ballots at Union Ridge Community Center but will be going to Frontier Cowboy Church, 2791 FM 593, in Gilmer.



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