Now that the election is over and all those borrowed voting machines need to be sent back to their owners, Harris County needs to buy replacements. Commissioners Court has approved an expenditure of $19 million to buy some 4600 eSlate machines to be ready for next year. What they got is the same thing we’ve been using all along.
The purchase also signals that the county will continue to use these machines with decade-old technology for some years to come.
“We’re going to need them until there’s a new iteration of machines,” County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said. She said, and a representative of eSlate vendor Hart Intercivic confirmed, that manufacturers will not introduce new machines until the Texas secretary of state and the federal Election Assistance Commission certifies the hardware and software for use in elections.
“Vendors are loath to develop something new because they don’t know what’s around the bend,” Kaufman said.
Well, I don’t know about the certifications issue, but there are two things I would like to see in the next generation of eSlates:
1. The ability to randomize ballot order, especially for non-partisan elections like primaries, special elections, and municipal elections. Your electoral outcome should not be affected in any way by the luck of a ballot order drawing.
2. Highlighting any races that are not included in a straight-party vote. In other words, if you cast a straight party vote on a ballot where there may also be a special election or a proposition, the eSlate should point that out to you before you hit the “cast vote” button.
I don’t know if this is a chicken and egg situation or not, and I don’t know if state law would need to be changed to allow these things, but I do know that I feel pretty strongly that they ought to be considered. I’m avoiding the question of adding a paper trail because that’s a political fight, and I see these things as merely technological; perhaps naively, I don’t think either of these suggestions should be controversial, and thus ought to be reasonably easy to build a consensus for them. Given that, is there anything you’d add to my wish list?