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Citing concerns over election security and the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Llano County Commissioners Court is moving to improve internet service at the Llano County Highway 71 Annex.

During a special meeting Monday, Sept. 21, the commissioners court approved an agreement with Northland Business for internet upgrades at the annex, 1447 Texas 71 in Llano. 

To authorize a deal in time for the rapidly approaching election, the court also ordered an exemption from the competitive bid process. The contract with Northland Business indicates it will take up to 30 days to install the service.

“We won’t be able to get the internet speed installed prior to early voting, but if we do it now, we will be able to get it installed prior to Election Day,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Peter Jones during the special meeting held via Zoom. “Time is of the essence to get this in place by Election Day.”

The competitive bid process itself can take as many as 30 days and, if adhered to, would prevent the county from making dramatic changes to its infrastructure in time for the general election.

The contract states that it will cost about $25,000 to install broadband internet and $400 a month to service the annex for three years. Currently, the county spends $75 a month on internet services for the annex.

Llano County is funding the upgrade with a 2020 Election Security Grant. The $80,000 grant requires a $16,000 county match. A delay in the grant funding held up the internet improvements.

“Our internet goes down over here all the time,” said Llano County Elections Administrator Cindy Ware. “Sometimes, we have our internet go down for two days at a time.”

Aside from being slow and unreliable, the Secretary of State election security program examined the existing connection infrastructure in December and found minor gaps.

“We did pretty well on it, considering we’re such a small county,” Ware said of the state examination. “It wasn’t so much that there was anything wrong with what we had, it just could be more secure. They made a recommendation that we secure our internet connection.”

On Election Day, a more secure internet service will allow the elections office to maintain connectivity with polling sites and keep tabs with activity in real time.

The annex building also houses the county auditor and human resources offices.