When HAVA came down the pike in 2002, county officials across the state gave a collective sigh, anticipating yet another unfunded – or at the very best, partially funded – mandate. Some counties would have to completely overhaul their voting systems, and everyone would have to address accessibility – what some call the ADA component of the Help America Vote Act. But who would foot the bill?
In a seemingly rare turn of events, the money materialized. Yes, it trickled down bit by bit, and the full amount came later than expected…but at least it came. While the jury is still out regarding long-term maintenance, repair and replacement costs of the new, required machinery, warranties will ease this burden for the time being.
Money was just one initial concern. Change can be a tricky thing, and some counties had been using the same voting system for decades. However, many of those officials who worried at the onset about voter hesitancy and reluctance to “high-tech” devices were pleasantly surprised at voter response to new systems implemented in time for the November 2005 Texas constitutional amendment election.
Finally, as a bonus of sorts, some county clerks are saying that the new required machinery is saving valuable time when it comes to counting the votes…and they may ask their commissioners courts to purchase even more!
HAVA Nuts and Bolts
On Oct. 29, 2002, President George W. Bush signed House Resolution 3295, the Help America Vote Act, or HAVA. This federal legislation created many new mandates for state and local government.
The 78th Texas Legislature addressed HAVA via the passage of House Bill 1549, which amended various chapters of the Texas Election Code to comply with HAVA and authorized the secretary of state (SOS), the chief election officer of the state, to adopt any rules necessary to implement the act.
Key requirements of HAVA include the complete replacement of all lever and punch card voting systems and the provision that each polling place in the state offer a voting device that “shall be accessible for individuals with disabilities, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters…” These accessible machines were required to be in place by Jan. 1, 2006.
All voting machines including hardware and software must be federally certified and then state certified, said Don Blakely, vice president of Election Systems & Software Inc. (ES&S). Prior to ES&S’ AutoMark, DREs, or direct record electronic machines, were the only accessible voting devices certified by the federal government and the state of Texas.
There currently are four Texas-certified accessible DRE machines that cast each vote electronically and can be outfitted with an apparatus to accommodate individuals with disabilities, said Dan Glotzer, Texas HAVA grant manager with the Texas SOS. A fifth Texas-certified accessible voting machine, the ES&S AutoMark, is an electronic paper ballot-marking device.
In addition to being accessible, the voting system must allow the voter to view and correct the ballot and prevent or alert the voter if he or she over-votes, Glotzer said. All five of the Texas machines meet these requirements. In addition, a precinct-level scanning device is available to meet these two requirements by alerting the voter after the ballot is fed into the scanning device.
Most counties have signed or are in the process of signing contracts with the various certified vendors, Glotzer said.
“It should be noted that we were not fully funded until April 2005,” he continued, “Practically speaking, that only gave us nine months to fully implement this enormous mandate.”
Victoria County, which had to replace all of the county’s lever machines, purchased 192 total voting devices from certified vendor ES&S. Of those, 39 are accessible (to individuals with disabilities), said Victoria County Judge Donald Pozzi.
The county used the new voting machines during the November election, Pozzi said, when voters also cast ballots on a couple of local issues.
“Everything went very well,” Pozzi said. “We had little or no complaints about the machines, and there were no problems.”
Like Victoria County, Collin County had to switch out its entire system.
“We had been looking at replacing our previous system (punch card) for years due to early voting,” said Collin County elections administrator Sharon Rowe.
Early voting requires the county to provide ballots to everyone, Rowe said. However, due to the consolidation of early voting locations, voters would have to wait while election workers changed out frames or inserts – part of the punch card system – depending on the precinct ballot required by the voter.
“We have very few elections where there is one ballot style,” she said.
Once HAVA passed requiring the county to replace its entire system, the county went to work.
“Thankfully, my commissioners court chose to go ahead and move forward immediately and make a decision,” Rowe said.
The county put together a committee to study and test various equipment, eventually purchasing machines from certified vendor Diebold. The county then focused on training, particularly the poll workers, to prepare for the September 2003 elections.
“We had excellent voter response,” Rowe said.
While Erath County was not required to replace its entire optical scan system, the county chose to do so, purchasing 75 machines from certified vendor AccuPoll Inc., enough for about four per polling place.
“We didn’t want to have to use a DRE, but we knew had to,” said Erath County Judge Tab Thompson.
“We are a progressive county, and we knew this would be the wave of the future,” Thompson said, so the county opted for total replacement.
The machines were in place for the November 2005 elections. Thompson said he initially was concerned about the elderly population, “but they did great.”
Deputy clerk Garla Allen, who helps with the county elections, characterized the turnout and machine usage as “fantastic.”
Gaines County purchased just one DRE per polling place, using a machine from certified vendor Hart InterCivic. Out of 1,700 voters, approximately 1,100 voted on the new machine.
“I had very good, positive feedback and response,” said Gaines County Clerk Vicki Phillips. The majority of the 600 who voted via paper ballot chose to do so because of time, she added.
“I am ecstatic over it, especially the tabulation,” Phillips said. The 1,100 or so votes cast using the DRE took about 15 minutes to tabulate, while the 600-plus paper ballots took about two hours.
“I am working on my commissioners to go completely electronic,” she said.
Paying for HAVA
Victoria County was required by law to replace all of its lever machines. HAVA fully funded the cost, Pozzi said, which totaled $650,000 to $750,000.
“It is our understanding that the allocations will fully fund each county’s minimum compliance needs,” Glotzer said.
The HAVA grant process is comprised of an award agreement between each county and the SOS, Glotzer said. Additionally, the county must submit a grant budget via an online grant system. After the SOS approves the budget, the county is invoiced for goods or services received, and the county releases payment to the vendor, the county financial officer (the county auditor or treasurer, depending on the county) has access to request reimbursement against the approved budget.
Counties are encouraged to time the payment to the vendor with its reimbursement request to the secretary of state as closely as possible to minimize any cash flow issue, Glotzer said.
Each county that used a punch card or lever system during the November 2000 federal election was awarded funds at a rate of $3,192.22 per precinct, a rate determined by the federal government. In addition, the state received two appropriations in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 to help meet HAVA mandates.
The SOS will keep the funding open until August 2006 for the acquisition of HAVA-compliant voting equipment and until December 2008 for ongoing operational expenses such as storage and maintenance as well educational and training activities for election workers and voters. However, a county that does not meet HAVA compliance by the deadline set forth in HAVA may jeopardize its grant funding.
Texas – Leading the Way
From a national perspective, Texas has been a leader in procuring electronic systems and complying with HAVA, said Phillip Braithwaite, vice president of Hart InterCivic.
“They are doing it faster than any other state,” he said.
Braithwaite credits Secretary of State Roger Williams and his staff for championing HAVA and getting the word out to all 254 counties regarding available funding.
As of press time, most counties had signed contracts with certified vendors or were knee-deep in the acquisition process, Glotzer said. Consequently, the SOS does not have firm statistics on the breakdown of voting configurations but will collect this information in early 2006.
For several years, HAVA experts have addressed officials at educational conferences to discuss mandates, deadlines and machinery certification. Many questions centered on pending regulations and whether or not the federal government will eventually require a “voter verifiable paper audit trail,” or VVPAT, essentially a paper copy of a completed ballot that was originally cast electronically.
To date, the federal government has left the VVPAT issue to the states, and Texas has not adopted a statute requiring counties to use a VVPAT component.
The federal government has issued a voluntary standards draft that will not be effective until 2007, Glotzer said. The draft includes separate standards for VVPAT and non-VVPAT systems.
“In other words, VVPAT will not be mandated by the federal government unless a law is passed requiring it, or the voluntary standards are fundamentally changed and the state adopts those standards,” Glotzer continued.
Erath County placed a great deal of importance on a paper trail when making its decision, said the county judge, opting to purchase a machine that includes the VVPAT function.
“We felt like it was extremely important,” Thompson said. “It gives voters something they can take and put into the ballot box.”
For more information on HAVA, including FAQs, go to http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/hava/index.shtml.
Julie Anderson, Editor