For the first election after Sept. 1, 2026, Texas counties, including Burnet, must have voting machines that leave a voter verifiable audit trail.
The change will cost the county about $1 million and require either a larger location for the Elections Office, which is currently at 106 W. Washington St. in Burnet, or an off-site, climate-controlled, storage facility that allows for segregation of materials, said Doug Ferguson, the Burnet County elections administrator.
Authored by state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Senate Bill 598 was approved by the 87th Texas Legislature in regular session this spring and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott over the summer. It offers money to counties that bought new, ineligible equipment after 2014 but not to counties with older equipment.
“We are one of the many counties that still uses old equipment but have waited until the Legislature actually made a law that said we have to replace it,” Ferguson said. “(Our equipment) is a very secure system. The technology is old, but these machines still work really, really well.”
Ferguson described the machines as robust, easy to fix, and impossible to hack.
“New machines are not going to be any more secure than what we have now,” he said “All those security algorithms will be 20 years newer, but it doesn’t matter how old they are if you can’t get to them. The system we have now is really good and it’s really secure.”
Burnet County’s system backs up votes in three different places: on a memory card, in a box called the Judge’s Booth Controller, and in the voting machine itself.
“We have plenty of fallbacks,” Ferguson said. “We’ve never lost a vote.”
New equipment means new materials with new storage requirements. For example, the paper used in the new machines is thermal and will have to be stored in an air-conditioned space with low humidity. It also will have to be separated by precinct and polling location.
“We have a lot of new rules that go along with having the paper,” Ferguson continued. “It will take a lot more storage for the boxes of paper, the ballot boxes. We’ve already outgrown our new location on Washington. It will take moving us to a larger location and finding more storage.”
Although reluctant to transition to a new system he doesn’t feel is 100 percent necessary, Ferguson said he will be working toward that goal. He is already talking to Burnet County commissioners about the deadline.
“I’m a little hesitant to change,” he said. “It will be all new for me and everybody else. But, it’s a 20-year-old system. I understand. It’s just, well, I drive used cars, too.”