Two Years After Massive Fire, Harris County Opens Warehouse For Voting Equipment

Two months before the the start of 2010 general and gubernatorial election, a massive 3-alarm fire at Harris County's Election Technology Center completely destroyed over 10,000 pieces of voting equipment.

The warehouse on Canino and Downey was used to store voting booths and E-slates — the computer based machines used for collecting votes.

It caused an estimated $40 million dollars in damages. Fourteen counties came to the rescue with several thousand pieces of equipment, and the elections went on uninterrupted.

Two years later, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart held an open house at its new facility in Northwest Houston. He told attendees it used to house the extensive automobile collection of the late prominent attorney John O'Quinn.

"Clean epoxy coating on 80 percent of the floor in this warehouse. There was over 400 cars in this warehouse, estimated value over a quarter of a billion dollars. So if John O'Quinn would trust a quarter of a billion dollars worth of automobiles in this warehouse, the taxpayers of Harris County are very well served by having their election equipment, and records, and tax office materials in this warehouse."

Former Clerk Beverly Kaufman
Former Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman speaking at the podium and Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart in the background.

The new ETC was paid for by fire insurance and federal funds from the Help America Vote Act. Stanart says the county will be saving money as well.

"The tax office lease was about $240,000 dollars a year. I'm gonna save over a $100,000 a year just because we built a microfilm records climate-controlled storage room back over here. I was having to pay Bexar Trust a $100,000 dollars for that. We've moved the county clerk's records from downtown from the coffee pot building over here next door, and that's gonna save an estimated half a million dollars, because they'll be able to put a parking lot in."

Former Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman says it was hard to imagine the dilemma in trying to ensure the voting process.

"Well, I had a lot of confidence from the word go, because I knew the people I worked with and what they were capable of. And this facility is a testament to what cooperation in governments can do for the people of Harris County."

She believes all of the positive elements that were in place to make it happen came together. Harris County is the nation's third largest election jurisdiction.

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