Elections admin responds to voting machine concerns

AUTUMN OWENS/WD PHOTO

This week, a Parker County commissioner and election worker expressed concerns they had with the voting machines following the Nov. 5 election. Parker County Elections Administrator Don Markum said this is new equipment and that they analyze every election to see what can be improved.

In September, the county purchased new voting equipment from longtime vendor Hart InterCivic, which allows for a paper trail during elections.

Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley said he is concerned about ballot paper jams that occurred during the Nov. 5 election.

“I hadn’t been to every location, but I went by several of my locations in Precinct 1 and there were anywhere from two to five jams at each location. I think the election coming up is going to be critical, the November [2020] election, we’re going to have three to four times as many voters than we had in this last election and we don’t need a bunch of jams,” Conley said. “I called Hart [InterCivic] and they said there were problems all over the state with a few jams, but I think we had more than most. I don’t think we should have had as many jams as we did, but maybe it’s the people putting them in crooked.”

But Markum said with new machines, there are always some kinks to be worked out, and that nothing happened that was a major concern to him.

“There are only six counties in the state that used these machines this past election because they just got certified this summer, so they are really new,” Markum said. “There were two different issues — sometimes you put a piece of paper in and it said you had more than one piece of paper in there and that was humidity, which caused the paper to swell some. The representative here showed us on-site how we can recalibrate the machine and once we did that, it took care of the problem.”

But Conley said he didn’t buy that it was because of humidity.

“Markum seems to think it was just humidity, well, I don’t buy that myself. Some of the people at the locations said that if people don’t put it in straight, it will jam, so not the humidity,” Conley said. “But the elections judge did a really good job explaining to everybody how to use these new machines. They were standing there telling everybody to make sure the paper was straight, so they had less jams after they started telling everybody to put it in straight.”

Markum said there were some paper jams created by the way the ballots were being inserted into the scanners.

“As far as the paper jamming, I’ll be honest, there weren’t enough for me to be concerned about. The paper jams weren’t mechanical problems, they were people problems, but we do need to do a better job of training our workers on how to show [voters] to put the paper in straight,” Markum said. “I think it will take care of itself. The more we use these machines, the more people get accustomed to them, the less that will be a problem.”

John Fields has been an election worker in Parker County for 50 years and said the new voting machines worked great, but the lines were constant on election day at Santa Fe Baptist Church. Fields said he was concerned about how long it took.

“We had four lines going at all times on Tuesday for Election Day — there was a line to check in, there was a line to get an access code, there was a line to get a receipt, there was a line to put [the ballot] in the scanner — and that’s how it went all day,” Fields said. “We didn’t have the turnout you would expect in a general election or primary, so I think there are going to be very long lines.”

Markum said the county, like the whole state, underestimated how many people would vote in the Nov. 5 election.

“There was a long line down at Santa Fe where John was, but that was the busiest poll site on election day. Part of the problem was that usually on odd-numbered years, we expect about 10,000 voters is a good turnout. We had 20,000 voters come out and I will say that every county in Texas had the same problem — everybody underestimated the turnout,” Markum said. “[The Parker County Courthouse Annex] is not a poll site on election day, so everybody coming here to vote saw a sign that said the closest poll site was Santa Fe [Baptist Church] and two things happened to help alleviate the line there. I took them two more machines, so they started with seven and ended with nine. I also stood outside the door and when people came up I told them that Santa Fe was the closest, but was about an hour wait and so a lot of them went to another site.”

Fields suggested the county purchase more machines and get more election workers for the next election.

“You gotta have more machines for sure and more scanners, I don’t know that what they ordered is enough, so they’re definitely going to have to put in for more,” Fields said. “For election day there were four iPads, but there were only two of us working, so we had to do it all day long and I got one bathroom break and ate my [lunch] while I was checking people in.”

Markum said they will have more machines out for the next election.

“During the primary, we will probably have 16 machines at that one site, but there are going to be long lines and that’s why I urge everyone to vote early to avoid that big line,” Markum said. “There are going to be lines even during early voting and that’s what you get with paper ballots because there’s so much more thaT the voter has to do now. It’s just going to take longer and there’s a lot of positives with paper, like a paper trail, but the one negative is that it takes each voter longer to vote.”

Markum said they analyze every election to look for ways to make any improvements.

“Right now I’m looking at how many we had turn out at each poll site four years ago and also two years ago to see if there are certain patterns so we’ll know how many machines to put at each site,” Markum said. “It’s kind of like an educated guess process, you never know, but we know people will end up at Santa Fe so we’ll put more there and we know people will show up in Aledo, so we’ll put more machines and people there.”

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