The Travis County clerk’s office is abandoning a nearly decade-long effort to craft its own voting system, opting instead to pick one of the existing voting machine systems from a private company, officials announced Tuesday.
“We’re going to proceed with getting a new voting system,” County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir told the Commissioners Court during its Tuesday meeting. “It’s not going to be STAR-Vote, but it’s going to be the next best thing.”
Beginning in 2009, the county convened a study group that designed a new voting software, called STAR-Vote, to improve security and include a verifiable paper trail while staying inexpensive.
The group envisioned a system that allows voters to use tablets that would print out a paper ballot, which would stay at the voting station and would be used to verify that vote, and a receipt for the voter to take home.
The county had also hoped to shift away from proprietary technology sold by private companies to open-source, meaning computer code free for anyone to use and modify.
But after the county sent out a request for proposals, on Sept. 26 the court, at the request of the purchasing agent, rejected all 12 proposals, saying none proposed a complete system that was cost-effective for the county.
DeBeauvoir said there are new voting systems on the market that will still meet higher standards for security and include paper trails. It will probably cost about $14 million and will last between 10 and 20 years, DeBeauvoir said.
The county plans to issue an RFP by the end of October. Officials hope to have the new system in place before the 2020 general election.
Initial estimates showed that STAR-Vote would have cost $10 million to $12 million, but over time the cost would have been lower because of cost-sharing among counties and the lack of licensing fees.
The current system, the Hart InterCivic eSlate, was bought in 2001 and cost between $6 million and $8 million, DeBeauvoir said.
She said she found that private companies aren’t yet interested in the open-source model the county seeks because it’s not as lucrative. Unlike the current system, an open-source system wouldn’t require continual renewal of expensive software licensing agreements.
“Open-source was considered too low a revenue model for private-sector companies to build,” she said.
So for Travis County, at least for now, STAR-Vote is still a faraway dream.
“STAR-Vote is not dead. It’s not gone away. … My hope is somebody else now will pick it up and carry it on,” DeBeauvoir said, clarifying that she meant another county in the U.S.