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June 27, 2006     (512) 463-0300

STATE AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEARS TESTIMONY ON ELECTRONIC VOTING ISSUES

State Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Duncan considers written testimony submitted during Tuesday's hearing.

Federally mandated electronic voting machines lead to increased costs and voting irregularities, local officials said at a meeting of the Senate State Affairs committee today. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed in 2002 by the federal government, requires the use of voting machines in elections involving federal ballots, and recent state legislation has extended this statute to all local and state elections.

County clerks and election officials from across Texas testified about the issues that their regions have faced as a result of new voting standards. Witnesses reported delays in getting machines from vendors, programming errors and bugs that lead to ballots being rendered useless, and at least one case in which a candidate's party affiliation was changed by the machines. The costs of implementing these machines, said some local officials, is prohibitive, especially when combined with the difficulty of getting machines to remote or rural polling places. Pat McGowan, clerk for Nolan County, testified that the cost of running elections has increased more than $8,000 per election.

Officials also cited difficulties in co-coordinating overlapping districts and jurisdictions, who must share machines due to lack of resources. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvior said that the most recent election was the most complex, difficult administration challenge she has faced in her capacity as County Clerk.

Austin county clerk Carrie Gregor, called the 2006 primary elections an "ultimate nightmare". The election in her district was plagued by machine delays and software problems that resulted in voting errors. "This is the technology that we are forced to use because of the HAVA mandate," she said "I am in full support of anybody having the right, regardless of disability, limitations, whatever your reasons may be, to go in and cast your secret private ballot, however, you should feel confident that it is marked correctly, and that is the vote of your intent."

Representatives of the electronic machine vendors testified that they are aware of the voting issues, and are taking steps to remedy them in Texas. Election Systems and Software, which provides and administers election machines in 149 Texas counties, is opening a dedicated facility in Addison to resolve customer service issues exclusively in Texas. The company has also increased its ballot printing capacity.

Committee Chairman Robert Duncan acknowledged the complexity of this issue, and said he will hold another State Affairs hearing this interim to further consider possible solutions to this problem.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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