— By SALLY SEXTON
After a week’s worth of discussion regarding voting methods, the Weatherford College board of trustees voted Thursday to use electronic voting systems for the college’s May 11 election.
Place 1 trustee Elaine Carter, running for re-election, on Feb. 11 requested the use of paper ballots Feb. 11.
Last week, trustees reviewed information on the differences between paper ballots and electronic voting, before tabling the decision to this week.
On Thursday, due to a lack of motion regarding paper ballots, a contract between Parker County and Weatherford College was approved using electronic voting, at a cost of $5,465.
“By requesting paper ballots, it was not my intention to cause added financial burden to the college,” Carter said. “Because of my interest in the election, I wanted to present all possible methods to make sure every voter’s voice is heard.
“That was my intention.”
Last week, trustees were presented with information regarding the paper ballots, including the figure of an additional $25,000.
Numerous faculty members, representing both the college and the county, expressed their thoughts on the matter during open forum.
“To my knowledge, the current method of electronic voting has been successful in recent years,” Vicki Traweek said. “I do not believe this is the proper way to use $25,000 in funds.
“As staff, we are asked to reduce our department budgets drastically, and we have done this and done it willingly. I urge you to scrutinize this $25,000 in the same way you scrutinize the budget.”
Others echoed Traweek’s sentiments.
“You cut expenses to avoid a tax increase and then you turn around and increase the cost of election,” Jim Messinger said. “Clearly, I don’t understand your priorities.”
Robert Parden, Parker County elections administrator, was on hand to answer questions about the use of electronic voting and its pros and cons.
“It’s all about democracy, everyone getting to express their voice whether by paper or electronically,” he said. “But I am here to tell you that as the elections administrator, I am not able to contract with Weatherford College if you choose to use the paper balloting method.”
Parden cited several reasons for the decision, including the lack of a pre-clearance request to the Department of Justice, which is suggested prior to election changes, as well a lack of equipment and staff.
“I see no means of conducting an election without confusion to election workers and to the voters themselves,” he said. “I do not own ballot cans, and our personnel is not trained to handle paper ballots.”
Parden also told the board that the college legally has a right to conduct its own election, but that the estimated cost, including personnel and equipment, would be around $41,000.
Parden also answered specific questions on how the electronic voting machines are tested and password use.
“It’s hard for me to tell you that I can’t conduct this election,” Parden said. “As an elections administrator, I want to conduct elections.”