Beverly Kaufman had returned from the celebration marking the birthday of the city of Houston last month when she got a call from her chief deputy that the warehouse on Canino that kept the ten thousand voting machines was on fire, and that it was considered a total loss.
"The reactions were a mixture of horror and disbelief, but I've always been the kind of person that looks at a situation, a critical situation, and thinks what do we need to do now? And that's exactly what I did. I started asking questions about insurance, was conscious of the fact that our command center is downtown. All of our counting equipment, very critical elements of the process, were downtown and intact, in another location, and I was grateful for that."
Kaufman says she immediately thought about the sister counties around the state that had the same e-slates. She soon announced that she was confident that help and support would come from other county governments.
"My key staff people, along with our vendor Harte InnerCivic, the county attorney's office, and other representatives, had sat down over the weekend at the table over long hours, and had come up with a plan. It considered logistics; it considered what was practical; and it also looked at what was legal. All of the decisions at what seemed like a practical approach, but does it comply with the law."
This week, Commissioners approved a 15-million dollar insurance settlement that would help purchase new equipment right away. Kaufman says there will be other claims made because of the building and other equipment for future elections. Early voting starts next week and Kaufman encourages residents to cast ballots early.
"The voters have a two week period in which they can choose the day that they want to go and cast their votes, so it's just a practical matter to get your ballot 'in the can' so-to-speak and have it done. We feel like that when folks come and vote on election day also, that the experience will be normal, that they will not feel that anything is any different than normal. They're gonna go to their regular polling place, they're gonna have an electronic machine to vote on, or that paper ballot if that is their desire."
This is no doubt Kaufman's biggest challenge in her 16-year career as county clerk. Instead of panicking about the fire, she says she'll use the county's resources and experience to make things right before election.
"We just have to know that all that we need to get the job done is there. We just have to take advantage of it and utilize it for the greater good. And as I said, the unfolding of all of this has just been, it's almost miraculous the way all the good things have come into being for this experience, and I'm grateful for everyone that's played a part in it."