Wednesday, May 11, 2005

San Antonio Express-News Article

Less than a week after wrapping up the smoothest election yet using the county's electronic voting system, county officials learned Tuesday the city may go back to the old paper ballot method for the June 7 runoffs.

That news, in the midst of a report by Bexar County Elections Administrator Cliff Borofsky to the Commissioners Court, sent County Judge Nelson Wolff through the roof.

"We didn't spend all this damn money to go back and forth," Wolff said, arguing that switching back to paper ballots would slow results and confuse voters, who have been using touch-screens for almost two years.

When Borofsky explained that state law requires the elections office to let the city choose its voting method, Wolff turned his wrath toward Austin.

"I can't believe the state would come in here just the other day and give us all this money" to help pay for election technology upgrades, he said, while at the same time requiring the elections office to offer the old method.

But City Clerk Leticia Vacek said that before she officially requests either method, she needs to evaluate the cost to the city, which Borofsky estimated could be roughly $300,000 less using paper ballots.

"I'm not taking anything for granted, and I'm going to look at all options available to the city of San Antonio," Vacek said. "I'm also going to run this through our budgeting office as well as by the mayor and council. Three hundred thousand dollars is a lot of money."

Vacek said the city is preparing an amended submission to the county, in part because of changes in a voting site and in early voting hours, and it has the option of changing its preferred voting method.

Borofsky said electronic voting always costs more than paper ballots, because the technology is more expensive, and the state grant money only defrayed part of the cost.

That's not to say it's not negotiable. The county already agreed to cut its fee to the city, and thus everyone else, for the May elections, Borofsky said, and he might be able to negotiate more on the runoffs' cost.

A calmer Wolff later said that would be fine with him.

"The most important thing is having the city use the electronic method. Whatever needs to be worked out needs to be worked out," he said. "To go backwards and do the other is madness."

The paper method remains an option because the county held on to two of its 18 optical scanners to count mail-in ballots.


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