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20111104_ElectionsEDINBURG — Hidalgo County commissioners recently agreed to purchase 120 refurbished voting machines to help the election’s department prepare for the upcoming election season next year.

The machines will cost nearly $200,000 and also require annual hardware and firmware maintenance fees that are up to $95 for each machine each year they’re in use.

The company, which the county is purchasing its equipment from, Election Systems & Software, no longer makes the iVotronic machines, including those that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but had offered to sell the county the remainder of the machines it had available. Hidalgo County began purchasing its electronic voting equipment from the company in 2005, according to county documents.

No other vendor currently sells the equipment, Martha Salazar, the county’s purchasing agent, said.

“The county finds the need to increase the number of units to satisfy demand, damage and contractual obligations with other political subdivisions within Hidalgo County,” Salazar told commissioners in an October memorandum.

These machines, Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon said, are obsolete, but are expected to last about 10 years. The cost for the county to lease 200 voting machines from a private company would cost about $97,500 for one election, officials said in September.

This week, commissioners also approved the hiring of additional staff for the department, as well.

Five new full-time positions were created Tuesday. Those positions include election specialists, field service specialists and a GIS operator assistant. The expenditure for these positions are approximately $157,000.

While the positions weren’t included in the budget approved in September, Budget Officer Sergio Cruz said the money would come from the general fund.

In other action at this week’s Commissioners’ Court, officials approved a resolution in support of Proposition 2, a proposed constitutional amendment currently on the ballot for the 2011 General Election on Nov. 8. State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who authored the bill, discussed the importance of the amendment, which would allow the Texas Water Development Board to issue additional bonds as long as no more than $6 billion are outstanding at any one time.

Hinojosa said that providing the Texas Water Development Board additional funding, authority is required if the state's water planning and financing agency is to meet the steadily rising demand placed on Texas by population growth and climate. Without the increased bonding ability, the TWDB will not be able to meet the state's water needs in the next two years. Funding shortages could also compromise the TWDB's ability to provide matching funds required to obtain federal grants, further reducing the state's water capacity.

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