More than 70 residents voiced concerns and applauded efforts for moving to countywide voting centers and all electronic ballots at two public hearings held in Gatesville and Copperas Cove on Tuesday.
“My real concern is the electronic ballot,” said Phil Lavalis, a Copperas Cove resident who was the first to speak out about the planned switch to voting centers. “I want paper ballot at all times.”
The proposed change to voting centers would allow Coryell County residents to cast ballots at any polling location in the county on election day. However, it would require the county to use only electronic voting machines and lower the number of required polling locations.
Coryell County is expected to reduce the number of polling sites from 16 to 10, five of which would be located in Copperas Cove, the county’s population center, if the measure is approved by both the county commissioners and the state.
At the public hearings, County Tax Assessor-Collector Justin Carothers said he proposed the voting centers to the county commissioners to hopefully give greater access to voters.
“Each voter will still have a precinct number and will vote the ballot specifically for that precinct” but at any location, Carothers said at the Gatesville hearing. “No voter will be turned away.”
Voters would be “checked in” to vote on an electronic poll book connected in real time to the election server via the Internet, he said, eliminating the possibility of a voter casting ballots at more than one polling place.
At the Copperas Cove hearing, Cove resident Ed Bryant questioned the proposed system’s security, along with several other residents.
“Everything, a hacker can get into,” Bryant said after saying he had seen it happen during his career with the Army.
Copperas Cove resident Brenda Rivera echoed Bryant’s comments as she presented documents and newspaper articles showing where electronic ballots had generated errors.
“You want me to believe that they work?” she said as she held up a sign that read Be lie ve.
A majority of the audience clapped when Rivera finished speaking.
Carothers admitted anything was possible but said the system can’t be hacked through the Internet, as the ballot machines are not connected to the Internet. The county also tests the machines before every election, has used them since 2005, and has security protocols in place to make sure the machines aren’t tampered with.
“You can hear horror stories for either way,” he said, noting reports of poll workers falling asleep in cars and not delivering thousands of paper ballots.
In Gatesville, residents voiced similar concerns.
“It is important that people have confidence in the system,” said Gene Whittle, Democratic Party chairman. “If all the votes are on the electronic machines, we just don’t know” if the ballots are tallied accurately.
Whittle said his remarks were his own and not that of the party, which has yet to take a position on voting centers.
County Clerk Barbara Simpson, who preceded Carthors as the county’s election official, vouched for the electronic voting machines the county uses and for Carothers.
“The reason I chose those machines is because they can be checked,” Simpson said. “I believe in these machines, and I certainly believe in Justin.”
Simpson is a former Democrat who, like Carothers, is now a Republican.
Paul Edge, who attended the Gatesville hearing, voiced the concern that eliminating six voting places might inconvenience rural voters.
“I don’t want to get to the point where we don’t think about our rural people,” Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Beverly Jones said.
Carothers said there are not enough machines to run 16 polling sites but several of the locations would receive more voting machines.
Carothers will select the 10 voting centers based on input from the hearings and a focus group that met Feb. 4.
He will present a final proposal and locations to the commissioners court Feb. 25 when they will decide whether to submit the county’s application to the secretary of state.
Until then he invited anyone who had concerns about security to visit his office and see how the electronic ballot machines work.