SAN ANTONIO — When County Commissioner Tommy Calvert found out hundreds of retired Bexar County voting machines are sitting unattended in an east-side parking lot, he said he was bowled over.
"The first reaction was my eyes literally bugged out...and I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Calvert said.
The old machines were returned to the custody of the company that provided them, according to Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen. She said that is where the county's responsibility to the chain of custody ended.
"We purchased our new system in the summer of 2019, and as part of the contract, the company, ES&S, was to take all of our old equipment back as part of a trade in, and the company hauled them all away," Callanen said.
Callanen said she didn't know where the machines have been stored since they were turned over to the company, but they are now at a firm that claims to recycle all kinds of bulk material.
"I couldn't believe that we had voting machines, a 'Mount Trashmore' of voting machines, that are just open for someone to take," Calvert said.
Calvert said he will be looking into the matter because too much is at stake when it comes to securing the entire election process. Calvert said the system should be secure from cradle to grave.
"We've done a little research. It doesn't appear the state of Texas has any laws with respect to the proper disposition of voting machines," the county commissioner said. "That has got to change! If this ain't illegal, it needs to be illegal!"
"Potentially, these voting machines could be reprogrammed and put in places that have not modernized their systems," he added. "This is not the way the state needs to dispose of these very particular precious items."
Calvert said he and his fellow commissioners plan on gathering more information on what can be done to fortify the process.
"If voting machines could talk, what would they say about all of this? This is about computer programming, and with the right kind of information, we not only have to worry about domestic threats to our voting machines, but we also have nations running operations that want to have results modified. That's something Homeland Security has put out -- entire nations could do harm where they think they can," Calvert said.
Elections Systems & Software, the firm that provides services to many cities and counties, provided the following statement about the machines:
"The machines scheduled for destruction haven't been manufactured in many years. There are many layers of security protecting voting systems. This is old technology and the machines are literally broken and useless."
Calvert said with 300 or so voting sites, with each location having several machines, there could be 1,500 or more abandoned machines.
"That's a lot of potential to do things in the wrong hands," Calvert said.
After inspecting some machines that had spilled over the recycling yard fence, Calvert said he wants a tech expert to look into what data may be wasting away, exposed to the elements.
"The right forensics guy can get to the bottom of it," Calvert said, adding he believes commissioners court will take some type of action on the matter.
"Bexar County needs a policy for securing these machines. I can assure you my colleagues have been very, very shocked, just like I have been, and we are going to do something about this," Calvert said.