Cyber Talk Radio: Bexar County Voting Security

Bret Piatt, CTR host, and Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator - Episode 169 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, December 21, episode 169 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I sat down with Jacque Callanen, Bexar County Elections Administrator, to discuss lessons learned from the recent November elections, the county's updated voting machines and process and measures to be aware of in the upcoming March elections.

Starting off the episode, I ask Jacque to tell the story of how she ended up working for the Bexar County Elections office. It turns out she first got involved in the process when she was a grade school teacher and took off work one day to work at the polls, and her passion and engagement in the process only grew from there! Poll workers are paid, similar to when you serve on jury duty, and Bexar County is in need of poll workers for upcoming elections on March 3, and of course during the November presidential elections. Bexar County has become the state’s elections gurus since they successfully held 11 elections in the span of 14 months — Bexar runs all elections for the county, all its cities, and state elections. They have 284 poll sites, and over 1,000 workers total. The county currently has 1.14 million registered voter, many who register to vote when getting their driver’s license. If you have not registered to vote, you can do so here. In the November elections, there will be no more straight party ballots in Texas, meaning that voters will need to research candidates before arriving at the polls! What are the main takeaways from the recent Texas constitutional election? One of the main reasons why this election was important for Bexar County is because it was the first run of their new voting machines that had replaced 17-year-old equipment, which Jacque had discussed the last time she was a guest on the show. It was an important test of the new features and improvements to make sure everything ran smoothly and functioned as expected. In the previous machines, votes were counted and uploaded to server separately. With these new machines, some parts have changed. The new system allows it to be a faster and more accurate process. Voters will no longer have to go to their precinct-determined polling location, so people won’t have to disrupt their daily routines in order to vote. Last year around 18,000 people showed up on voting day, and this year they saw that increase to 56,000! Before the break, Jaque lays out the three biggest changes with these new machines: there is a physical paper ballot with a barcode for the voters’ own precincts. There are better touch screens and user interfaces, including the ability to switch between English-Spanish and each voting location has at least one accessible machine for those with vision impairments. The machine prints out choices on the ballot card and you put it in a tabulator machine that counts and secures the ballots, this is the most secure way to have records and copies of the votes in case of a recount.
After the break, we pick up on talking about the new voting machines and what it took to get them for the county. In total there are 2,500 machines, 325 tabulators, 350 printers, plus all of the software to run the equipment, which cost $12 million. Any recounts that are done will always be of the physical ballots — it’s an ideal way to ensure checks and balances and keep a record archive. For the upcoming March elections, they will need over 2,000 poll workers. For more information on the new machines, there are informative pictures and videos on their website. The county goes through a rigorous approval and testing process, making tampering very hard to do. The new machines are a definite upgrade on many levels!

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about Jacque’s experience as Bexar County Elections Administrator.

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