Gonzales County voters had their first opportunity to use the new touchscreen voting equipment during Texas Constitutional Amendment election in November. Besides a few minor issues, the election went off without a hitch.
“Overall we had very positive feedback,” County Clerk Lona Ackman said. “Most people really liked the machines, and everything worked great.”
The Gonzales County Commissioners Court purchased the new voting equipment in July for a total of $294,551.98. The hybrid system utilizes a touchscreen device for ballot selection that produces a paper copy for an electronic tabulator.
One rationale given by the court for the July purchase was that the Constitutional Amendment election would be more relaxed compared to a presidential election year. The slower election would provide election workers ample time to become acclimated to the new system.
While it is true voter turnout was down compared to a presidential year, vote totals far exceeded previous Constitutional amendment election cycles. Only 331 ballots were counted in Gonzales County for the 2017 Constitutional Amendment election while a total of 1,404 were cast in county for this year’s election.
County Voter Registrar Crystal Cedillo theorized it wasn’t the propositions that mobilized voters, but the new machines themselves.
“Now, could it be more people were interested in the propositions or could it be everybody wanted to come out and vote on these new, exciting machines?” Cedillo said.
County officials praised the machines for quick turnaround of results and for taking human error out of the voter identification process.
“We don’t have to try to read that handwriting that we can’t read. We don’t have to figure out is that a two or a one or a three or an eight or a zero. It rules out that error—that possibility of error,” Cedillo said.
Though election workers responses to the new equipment were overall positive, there were some hurdles as well. A lengthier closeout process for the machines, issues with manufacturer customer support and ballot shortage all burdened the election.
Now with one election with the machines down and the positives and negatives analyzed, the county hopes for smooth primary and general elections in 2020. There are eight county seats up for election in 2020 and more at the district, state and federal level.
“I’m glad we were able to go through this, I’m calling it a trial election, with this equipment,” Cedillo said. “We kind of know the flow. We know how it’s going to take for the check in on election night.”
The county will continue to ensure its election workers have plenty of hands-on experience with the equipment through trainings. Cedillo said they had numerous well attended trainings prior to the constitutional election and will provide more prior to the primary in March.
Even with the new equipment, the county wanted to ensure voters that ballot by mail is still offered to those that qualify.
Voters must provide their full residence address and an address of where the ballot can be mailed to. Your ballot must be mailed to your home or to your mailing address on your voter registration certificate except if you are 65 or older, disabled, in jail or are expected to absent from the county.
Voters 65 and older or those that are disabled may apply for ballots by mail for a calendar year.
“It’s an annual application. Every January they have to reapply,” Elections Clerk Christy Horstman said.
For more information visit the County Clerk’s Office at 427 Saint George St. or visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website at https://www.sos.state.tx.us/.