Friday, August 27, 2010

Harris County elections warehouse burns *updates*

It's where the voting machines are stored.

Firefighters are battling a three-alarm blaze at a northeast Houston warehouse that stores the majority of voting equipment in Houston and Harris County, according to HFD.

The Harris County Election Technologies Center, located on Canino at Downey, caught fire around 4:20 this morning, quickly growing to three-alarms.

The warehouse stores more than 10,000 pieces of equipment including voting booths and E-slates, which are used in the election process.

This comes before the general elections to be held November 2, which includes Governor’s race. Early voting is scheduled to begin in October.

Beverly Kaufman probably wishes she had retired a few months ago. Now she has a fairly huge challenge. Depending on the scope of the damage, of course (which I'm certain is still being assessed as I post this) she must choose -- and then train poll workers and then implement -- a partial or entirely new voting method for the second-largest county in the nation. All in about seven or eight weeks' time. Projected voter turnout somewhere around four million hundred thousand, give or take a million hundred thousand (sorry, one too many zeros).

Is there sufficient equipment stored elsewhere in the state by Hart InterCivic that can be shipped to arrive here in time? If not, then what alternate system will be used?

You can almost hear the shrieking now of "voter fraud" from both camps, can't you? Then there will naturally be the lawsuits, some before and more after the fact.

Together with the Vasquez vs. Houston Votes undercard, we are guaranteed a barnburner (*groan*) of an election cycle in Harris County, and that's before we mention a single race.

Lunchtime update: all 10,000 e-Slates and accompanying MBBs were destroyed. There's a press conference scheduled this afternoon where Kaufman will announce a plan going forward, which seems at this point to consist of borrowing machines from neighboring counties. There isn't anything close to 10,000 DREs on standby in the entire state; I'd be surprised if she can collect 1,000 from Harris County's next-door neighbors. So rather than try to get something in on short notice to replace the former system, Kaufman apparently wants to keep the current protocol in place, which does have the value of minimizing errors, opportunities for mischief, and liability on her part. I predict she will underscore the importance of early voting and patience. Early conclusion: we'll have considerably fewer machines to vote with, and much longer lines to stand in to vote.

Evening update:  First, from Kos ...

"Because I don’t expect to have 10,000 pieces to work with, no matter what we do, I’m sure that we’re going to be putting on a full court press urging people to vote early," Kaufman said.

Then this from Brad Friedman ...

A source familiar with Hart Intercivic tells The BRAD BLOG that the nation's fourth-largest e-voting company has fallen on hard times of late and does not have machines to ship to replace those lost in the fire.

If they can't get "similar machines" from somewhere, how, oh, how will the citizens of Houston be able to have elections this year?! Especially since pieces of paper, pens, eyeballs, citizen oversight and common frickin' sense were all long ago outlawed in Harris County, Texas, apparently.

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