Fire Destroys County’s Voting Machines

Investigators are still trying to find out what caused an early morning fire that destroyed the Harris County Election Technology Center. That building contained all ten-thousand of the county’s voting machines. That leaves election officials scrambling for answers with just a few months till the November election. Bill Stamps has more.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman has never been a mayor but she says she felt like one early this morning when she got the bad news.

“I felt like the mayor of Galveston with a category-five hurricane blowing in when we’re looking at just a couple months to a general election day where we expect a pretty good turnout.”

The building they call the technology center was a warehouse that housed all ten-thousand of the counties voting machines. They’re all destroyed at a loss of some 30-million dollars. The timing couldn’t have been much worse, with early voting starting in October and the general election in November. It’s time to start making some phone calls says Kaufman and see where they can get some help.

“114 counties, many of them much smaller than we are of course, such as Tarrant and Travis, use the same system. So we feel like we have a resource for some loaner equipment to get us into the early voting process very readily as well.”

She says they’ll make due this elections season with machines loaned by other counties and by machines either loaned or sold to them by the company that makes the machines. Still, 10-thousand booths is a lot to come up with in just a few months. Kaufmans says they probably won’t need all ten thousand this year.

“We can probably get by with less than that for the general election in November. It’s not a presidential election. That’s your largest election that you have every four years. This will be a larger election than an odd numbered year election surely. But we can get by with less than that and our approach is going to be to urge those qualified to vote by mail that will take care of some of it.”

Two years ago in the presidential election, 70 percent of Harris County voters voted early or by mail, Kaufman says a repeat of that figure could definitely help. Some have asked why the county kept all of its booths in the same place instead of spreading them around in case of disasters like this one. The county clerk says they were in the process of getting grant money to do just that, but weren’t able to do it quickly enough.

As for moral of her employees, she says they’ve know they have a lot of work ahead of them, they’ll probably be working weekends, but in the bigger picture things could be worse.

“No one’s died here. All of our vehicles were left intact and we did have our command center and our accounting system and our balloting by mail downtown in a separate facility and we’re glad about that too. And so I’m hoping that what we’ve been dealt here is an opportunity for all to pull together and hopefully we can make lemonade out of this ultimately.”

Kaufman and her staff plan to get to work right away.

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