Dallas County's switch from traditional polling places on election day to vote centers that can be used by anyone registered to vote in the county is a good thing. The Observer is on the record saying as much. The county's transition to the new voting setup, as county commissioners and the public found out this week, hasn't been as positive.
In its haste to get ready for the November 2019 state constitutional amendment election, the county, as KDFW first reported, spent $6 million on electronic poll books that don't work with the rest of its voting setup. As a result, the county has had to purchase more than $5.6 million in poll books from a second vendor.
Commissioner J.J. Koch, the sole Republican on the Commissioner's Court, lit into county Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole on Tuesday.
"We are now spending an additional $6 million that we didn't have to spend," Koch said. "We screwed up. We wasted $6 million. This body has never been given the opportunity to have proper oversight of this process."
According to Pippins-Poole, Tenex, the company from which the county bought the now-useless poll books, didn't know that it wouldn't be able to meet state rules that require that the tablets have a constant link to a central system at the time of the sale
"The security levels changed and the vendor could not meet those security levels that Dallas County changed and put on the vendor," Pippins-Poole said.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins chalked up the issue to lack of appropriate communication between the companies looking to sell voting equipment to the county and county offices.
"I'm not trying to throw anybody's department or anybody under the bus here," Jenkins said, "but the problem, I think you made the point ... and I think you're right, if we had detailed specifications on what our needs are from software — which we should have every time we're buying software for any department — we wouldn't have the situation where Tenex is saying it's our fault and we're saying it's their fault."
Koch refused to back down.
"The bottom line is though, that we've now wasted $6 million of taxpayer money," he said. "With $41 million spent, the taxpayers are owed a platinum experience on election day. If that doesn't show up, there are many problems that need to be addressed."
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Despite the initial complications, Pippins-Poole said it was essential that the county get the right systems in place before Texas' March primary. "We're trying to make sure we do it now for the primary election, so we can all be prepared in November for the general election.
"(It's getting close to the deadline), a deadline that we need to train, (that we need for a vendor) to come in and replace something that Dallas County has said is insufficient," Pippins-Poole said.
The court voted 4-1 in favor of buying the new poll books, with only Koch voting against the item.
"There's no new system that's perfect, no new iPhone, no anything," Commissioner Elba Garcia said. "Things are going to happen, and we're going to have to be ready to fix them as they occur."