EDINBURG — Seven voting machines were displayed at the Hidalgo County Elections Training Annex in Edinburg on Tuesday, ready to undergo testing in preparation for the upcoming March 1 primaries.
Hidalgo County invited the public to take a look at the new auditable Verity Hybrid voting machines as elections officials ran Logic and Accuracy tests Tuesday.
“The L&A of the voting machines serves as a security measure that we have in place that ensures the ballot is going to be correctly administered during the election,” Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon said in a news release.
The voting machines were upgraded after Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 598, which mandates all Texas counties that have been using direct recording electronic voting machines to change or retrofit them to an auditable paper-based voting machine.
Prior to the current retrofitting, Hidalgo County was mandated to purchase electronic voting machines in 2016 that cost the county nearly $6 million. The new upgrades cost about $2.6 million, as well as another estimated $1.6 million for related expenses.
Senate Bill 598 states that authorities who purchased a non-auditable voting system after Sept. 1, 2014 and before Sept. 1, 2021 are eligible to use federal or state funds to convert their equipment, and if done successfully before Nov. 8, 2022, the authorities could see the entirety of the costs reimbursed.
“We did [beat] that deadline,” Hidalgo County Elections Department Assistant Director Hilda Salinas said. “We were trying to be the first ones to retrofit our voting machines, so we contacted the vendor, Hart InterCivic, and we did everything that we needed to do to get this going.”
The reimbursement has not gone through yet, but officials expect a full reimbursement for the retrofitting of the voting machines, as well as the additional expenses made to purchase the accompanying scanners that will help count ballots during the audits.
For a regular voter, not a lot has changed.
Much of the voting process is the same, the only difference now is that once a person is finished voting, the machine will print out a ballot that can be scanned and audited, which leaves a paper trail of their vote.
“They are excellent voting machines,” Salinas said. “Our direct recording electronic device was just as great and did a wonderful job just as these. They tabulate their functionality, they’re user friendly, it’s just very positive especially for our voters here in Hidalgo County.”
Officials have taken every measure possible and have also retrofitted a more compact version of the voting machines for those who will be voting curbside, which is helpful this year due to a decrease in COVID-19 precautions.
Masks and social distancing are recommended at the polls but are not required, leaving the responsibility of taking precautions against the virus up to the voters. Despite this, poll workers will be sanitizing the machines and sanitation stations will be at every polling location.
“We are trying to work with that so that the voting machines can be strategically placed for the protection of everybody,” Salinas said.
Officials are expecting to have about 249 poll workers for early voting, though their numbers are dwindling due to COVID-19.
Early voting for the Texas Primary Elections starts Monday, Feb. 14.