Wilco showcases new voting systems for upcoming elections


A Georgetown neighborhood with a golf course close to its center saw a large number of people turnout Wednesday but those residents weren't teeing up for a late-morning game.

Instead, hundreds were trying out new voting systems purchased by Williamson County for the next elections.

The systems, which utilize a combination of electronic and paper ballot voting, were showcased from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday inside the Cowan Creek Amenity Center.

"I'd say it's money well spent," said John Patton after he tested the new system. "I think it's very important that we have a paper ballot."

The event was partially themed around the Wizard of Oz, and attendees to the open house cast votes for a mock election in the Land of Oz to test the new system.  Cutouts of characters from the 1939 movie were placed near the entrance and voting systems as part of the theme.

One of the cutouts - The Scarecrow - displayed a message reading "Using your brain to vote is easy with the new ExpressVote system", while another of Judy Garland's Dorothy located close to the entrance read "What are these new machines?! I don't think I'm in Williamson County anymore."

The "Yellow Brick Road" even made an appearance with yellow arrows on the floor leading attendees to the tryout tables and machines.

"It was easy," said Joe Reedholm, who lost a race for the District 4 Georgetown City Council seat against  Steve Fought in May this year, after trying the new setup.

"I thought it might be a lot more mechanical than it is, but it's all pretty electronic. The only difference is you're carrying around a piece of paper" Reedholm said.

Despite Reedholm agreeing the system provided necessary aspects like a paper trail for ballots in case of contested elections, he added, "I think there are things that are higher priority than providing a paper trail."

The new system cost around $4.4 million and was manufactured by Election Systems and Software, a Nebraska-based company that sells election equipment.

The new machines are a two-step process for voters. First, a citizen makes their selection of candidates on an electronic marking device, which produces a printed ballot showcasing the voter's choices. Then, the ballot is scanned into an electronic tabulator.

"They operate very similarly to the old machines in that they're a touch screen, the only difference is that you're putting a paper ballot in," said Williamson County Commissioner's Court member Valerie Covey.

"It actually is recording your vote, and then it keeps the ballot so that, if we had to recount, it would make it a simple process," Covey said.

The county purchased 800 ballot marking devices, 115 electronic precinct tabulators, two high speed electronic tabulators, and other necessary software, cases and accessories with the $4.4 million. The county also received a trade-in allowance on old equipment of $346,000.

"The old system, we had it for around 11 to 12 years and it was getting long in the tooth. It was getting expensive to maintain, parts were more difficult to find, supporting accessories were getting more difficult to find, and we started to see memory failure on some of the machines," said Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis.

"So we were looking for an upgrade, and then the question became 'what kind of upgrade are we looking for?'" Davis said.

The choice was between a paperless electronic system or a paper and electronic hybrid system, according to Davis. The county decided on the latter system, with guidance by the commissioner's court, for a variety of reasons ranging from giving voters peace of mind by way of paper verification to making a potential recount easier.

Another reason, Davis said, was because in the near future the Texas Legislature might decertify the use of paperless electronic voting machines, like the ones used by Williamson County in previous elections.

"Regardless of what the outcome may be in two years, we wanted, and the commissioner's court made the decision, to not have to worry about that," Davis said.

"The thing I like the most about [the new election system] is that it's simple and can't be hacked," said Arthur Cresse, who tried out the voting setup on Wednesday. "There's nothing complicated about it except for the guy trying to hack it," Cresse said.

"It's a smart move," he added about the county's spending on the machines.

The event, attended by 125 people according to the county, is part of a mid-month blitz by Williamson County to show voters how the machines will work in upcoming elections. Other open houses will take place from August 7 to 19.

Sally Loder, who is neighbors with Cresse and tried out the new system with him on Wednesday, said "this is a good step forward."