Back To Paper Ballots For Some Of Harris County

For all those who pine nostalgically for cardboard privacy boxes and paper voting ballots, oh boy is this the year for you.

At an emergency meeting of the Harris County Commissioners' Court on Monday, County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said paper ballots will be used to help compensate for the 10,000 pieces of electronic voting equipment that went up in flames last week.

The paper ballots will be the same as the ones regularly used by mail-in voters, and will be two-pages long for the November 2 election. Kaufman is urging residents to vote by mail and use the early voting period, which begins October 18.

"We know we won't have 10,000 pieces of electronic equipment by election day," said Kaufman.

But the county clerk is trying to get as many as she can. The main purpose of the emergency meeting was for the commissioners to authorize Kaufman to line up agreements with other counties for loaners and to let her start working on deals with vendors for replacement machines -- which they voted unanimously to do.

Kaufman has said she plans to borrow, buy and lease enough voting machines to ensure a smooth election. Deemed a "public calamity" by the county, $30 to $40 million worth of equipment was destroyed on Friday during a 3-alarm fire at a giant county warehouse along the 600 block of Canino, just west of the Hardy Toll Road near Melrose Park. The cause of the fire is unknown.

At the commissioners' meeting, which was packed with media, politicians and curious onlookers, there was considerable concern that the county might try to cut a few corners due to the immense loss and the short time with which to recover, potentially disenfranchising minorities and low-income residents.

State Representative Garnet Coleman, chairman of the County Affairs Committee and member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said he and other state legislators have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice asking it to use its authority to oversee and assist with the election, emphasizing the need to ensure equal access and fairness to minorities.

"We want to be clear to protect the rights of all voters," Coleman told the commissioners. "We want to work with you to make sure all voters can cast a ballot without confusion."

The major issue Coleman and others expressed was that the county might consolidate voting locations. But Kaufman put everyone at ease, assuring the crowd that there would be no consolidating of polling spots, which pretty much quieted the concerns.

"There is no time to surrender to partisan needs or agendas," said Kaufman. "We will make sure every voter has accessibility to a ballot."

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