|Voting machine costs to be shared by entities in county|
|Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor|
Feb. 24, 2006 - More than a year and a half ago, Hopkins County began learning about the Help Americans Vote Act and a requirement from the federal government requiring the use of electronic voting machines to primarily benefit handicapped or disabled voters in primary and general elections.
Close on the heels of the federal mandate, the state of Texas added the requirement that all political entities also adhere to the HAVA requirements.
The cost of the computerized voting machines was considerable, but the more than $350,000 needed to purchase the equipment was, for the most part, offset by grants. Training and software costs, however, were not paid for by the grants and were paid by the county.
Other entities in the county that conduct elections have been given the opportunity of entering into agreements with the county for the use of the equipment and each will pay a share of the cost, according to County Clerk Debbie Shirley, who serves as the county’s elections administrator.
The county will have to pay a certain amount of money, more than $11,000, each year to maintain the equipment and for annual software agreements. The election administration office has also employed two clerks specifically trained and certified to manage operations of the new electronic voting equipment.
A portion of the costs will be passed on to those entities leasing or using the county’s voting machines.
The county can charge other entities up to 10 percent for the rental of the equipment, but county commissioners chose to set the cost at 2 percent of the cost of equipment per day, or about $880.
For their May elections, the city of Sulphur Springs, Sulphur Springs Independent School District and Hopkins County Memorial Hospital District will share the voting machines and share in the cost of them.
“The programming charges are what are most expensive,” Shirley said. “That is what the vendor charges to program for the elections and put the ballots on this electronic machine.”
The programming cost, for each entity, is expected to be as much as $1,500 for each election.
“It is not the county charging these entities,” Shirley emphasized. “It’s the programming charges that are the greatest expense for this, and the county is not forcing any of the entities to use this equipment.”
The county, over the past year, held informational meetings with each of the entities that conduct elections in the county to discuss the equipment and explain the costs for use of the equipment.
“What we tried to do was give the other entities information and let them make their own choices,” Shirley said. “We told them what the county had available, what would be charged, what the vendor would charge for programming and told them there were other vendors out there ... that was what that meeting was for.”
Because of the limited time available for the other voting entities to shop for the mandated voting equipment, most elected to contract with the county this year. The option of continuing to use the county-owned equipment will be the decision of each political entity.