Frank Phillips spent last Wednesday staring down 600 boxes of election materials — voted ballots, blank ballots, precinct records — sitting in a warehouse run by Denton County. After sitting in storage for the legally required periods — up to nearly two years in some cases — the roughly 24,000 pounds of paper were finally ready to be shredded. Yet despite the hassle — and the significant cost — Phillips, Denton County’s elections administrator, is looking forward to this fall, when he will implement the county’s newest voting plan: a complete return to the paper ballot. The unusual move sets Denton, the ninth-largest county in Texas and one of the fastest-growing, apart from the state’s other biggest counties, which all use some form of electronic voting, according to data collected by the Secretary of State’s office. Both Bexar and Harris Counties, for example, have had all electronic voting systems in place for 15 years.
Denton has been using a hybrid voting system that employs both electronic and paper ballots for about a decade. But county officials recently approved spending just shy of $9 million to buy new voting equipment from Austin-based Hart InterCivic that will return to an entirely paper-based system in time for this year’s November elections. Even disabled voters, who will cast their votes on touch-screen machines, will have their ballots printed out and tallied through a print scanner.
The move comes months after a disastrous election day for Denton County in November, with machines inadvertently set to “test mode” instead of “election mode,” long lines, problems with scanning paper ballots, and, ultimately, incorrect tabulations. Phillips — who was working in nearby Tarrant County at the time — said it was the personnel, not the machines, that caused chaos last fall. But voters in town, as well as leaders with the local Democratic and Republican parties, called for a return to paper ballots in the months following election day.