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Paper ballots to debut as early voting begins Monday

Paper ballots to debut as early voting begins Monday

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This story has been updated to correct information related to the City of College Station's Proposition C.

Early voting for the November election begins Monday and voters will have an additional step at the polls to cast their ballot with a new paper component.

The addition of a paper ballot is a result of Senate Bill 598, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law June 14 and requires a paper trail for elections.

When voters proceed to the polling booth, they will receive an access code – just as they have in the past – and a blank sheet of ballot paper they must insert into a thermal printer connected to the county’s Hart InterCivic voting machines. Voters will cast their votes on the machine as usual, and then must click on a “print ballot” button when prompted.

The thermal printer will print out a paper ballot with the voter’s selection. Then, the paper ballot must be scanned and dropped into a locked ballot box before leaving the polling location. The ballot must be scanned and dropped into the ballot box for the votes to be counted.

“It’s not really any different than what they’re used to, just the one last very important component,” Brazos County Elections Administrator Trudy Hancock said.

She said polling locations will be stationed at the exits to serve as a “bouncer” to make sure no one leaves without scanning their ballot, stressing the printed ballot is not a receipt. Voters will not receive a receipt of their votes.

Hancock said she feels the electronic voting system the county has been using is secure, but acknowledges some people feel better when they are able to hold their ballot and see their votes on a piece of paper.

“That’s one thing that we want to ensure is that our voters have confidence in what we do,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what we do if our voters don’t have confidence in it. So if that’s what it takes is for our voters to have that piece of paper that they can look at it and know, then that’s what we want to do.”

Hancock said the system has a triple redundancy with the paper ballot, the electronic media in the scanner that will be counted on election night and then votes that are retained in the scanner itself.

When they are scanned, the paper ballots fall into a rolling zipper case housed inside a locked ballot box that is secured and turned in at the same time as the scanner’s electronic media that is tallied on election night, she said.

“We know at all times where those paper ballots and the electronic media have been,” Hancock said.

The county was able to continue using its 480 existing machines, and vendor Hart InterCivic retrofit the machines with the thermal printer required to produce the paper ballot. The county has been using Hart as its vendor since 2003 when it switched to an electronic voting system from a punch card system.

The addition of the paper trail cost the county about $1.3 million, Hancock said, but she expects the county to receive reimbursement from the state with a fiscal note attached to the bill.

November’s ballot includes eight state constitutional amendments, and City of College Station and College Station school district elections.

The city election includes City Council Place 4 – incumbent Elizabeth Cunha and challenger William Wright – and City Council Place 6 – incumbent Dennis Maloney and challengers Marie-Anne Mousseau-Holland and David Levine – and three charter amendments. The third charter amendment – Proposition C – relates to moving College Station elections back to odd-numbered years, a change that has been divisive among the candidates. Voters in 2018 chose for the city to transition to even-numbered years, and Proposition C would move the four-year cycle back to odd-numbered years. 

The school district’s election will have two at-large trustee races – Amy Alge versus Darin Paine for Place 1, and Blaine Decker versus Kim Ege and Mengmeng Gu for Place 2 – and four propositions that together make up the $83.1 million bond proposal.

Early voting will take place Oct. 18-23 and Oct. 25-27 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Oct. 28-29 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Locations for early voting are Brazos County Election Administrator Office (300 E William J. Bryan Pkwy in Bryan), Arena Hall (2906 Tabor Road in Bryan), Galilee Baptist Church (804 N. Logan in Bryan), College Station Utilities Meeting and Training Facility (1603 Graham Road in College Station) and the Memorial Student Center on Texas A&M’s campus.

Election Day is Nov. 2 and polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and those in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast a ballot.

To view a sample ballot, check voter registration and find information about candidates and voting locations, go to brazosvotes.org.

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