Nueces is one of the few counties in the Coastal Bend that have gone from manual paper ballots to solely electronic machines, but Duval and Jim Wells continue to give the voters a choice.
Nueces County election officials and volunteers were busy Friday testing the electronic voting machines in anticipation of the upcoming Primary Elections. There were 14 machines tested over the course of two days.
The purpose of the testing is to make sure the machines work and will correctly input the choices of each voter as they cast their votes. The volunteer testers inputed every different combination of possible results a voter could select. "There are about 3,000 different permutations of what any random voter could select based on the 127 different precincts with every candidate and measure that is coming up for election,” said Nueces County Chief Clerk James Shumaker. The testing is also a way to show transparency and honesty in the election process.
The voting machines are Hart Voting System eSlates and Judge's Booth Controllers (JBC) and are programmed only by the technicians employed by the Election's Department.
Chauncy Saguinsin is an Election Systems Support Technician for Nueces County and it's his job to keep the machines up and running. He and his fellow technicians program all of the machines and troubleshoot any problems they may run into before early voting.
“We start preparations about three to four months ahead of an election just making sure that the machines are in good repair. We have about 1,000 eSlates and 250 JBC's for the county and they typically last about four to five years,” he said.
Between elections they are usually busy doing maintenance, yet during voting there are 16 technicians who can be on-site within 15 minutes if a major problem arrises. “For the most part we can troubleshoot over the phone, but if something major does happen we simply shut the lid until we can look at it,” Saguinsin said.
Another benefit of the eSlates and JBC's is the Mobile Ballot Box or MBB. This is the programming card used by Hart Intercivic as a means of ensuring security. The machines uses only the MBB for programming the ballots and cannot be accessed or tampered with in any way that would affect any election.
“We plug the ballot info into the computer and it gets saved to the MBB. It then get's installed on the voting machines. Before it goes to the public we submit the ballots to the different political parties for approval before final programming.” Saguinsin said. This testing is important in Nueces County because voting is completely electronic.
“No one is asking for paper ballots any more," he said.
To the west of Nueces County lies Jim Wells and Duval counties.
Residents in Jim Wells and Duval have an option to use the eSlate machine or paper ballot.
“There is still a high demand for the paper ballots across the board, however we do try to encourage voters to learn the electronic voting system," said Jim Wells County Election's Administrator Antonia “Tonie” Kuhlman. "When someone does learn it, they realize that it's much easier. But because the demand for paper ballots is so high, we won't change.”
Duval County Election Administrator Linda Perez mirrored the same sentiments.
“Younger voters are more receptive to electronic voting. It's the older voters that are not as receptive," she said. "We try to promote it as much as possible but at the end of it, they end up choosing the paper ballots.”
Jim Wells and Duval County election officials make sure to offer both paper and electronic voting methods to all residents who wish to use them.
Regardless of how the public chooses to vote, one will not be allowed to vote if they are not registered.
Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos would like to remind Texans that February 1 is the deadline to register to vote.
“I encourage all qualified Texans who aren’t already registered or who need to update their registrations to do so before the February 1 deadline,” Cascos said. “This primary election will help decide which candidates will be on the ballot in November.”
A photo ID is currently required for anyone wishing to vote in person. Texans can check their eligibility status as well as get any other important information at VoteTexas.gov or at their county voter registrar's office.