HOUSTON Even though more than 10,000 pieces of voting equipment were destroyed in a three-alarm fire at the Harris County Election Technology Center Friday morning, officials said voters should have nothing to worry about when the elections begin in a few months.
The warehouse, located on Canino at Downey, caught fire around 4:20 a.m. Friday, causing an estimated $40 million in damages.
The building was used to store equipment, including voting booths and eSlates the computer-based machines used for collecting votes.
But with early voting scheduled to begin in October and the general election slated for November 2, 11 News political expert Bob Stein said time could be an issue for County Clerk Beverly Kaufman and other election officials.
These are not the widely-used electronic voting machines, said Stein. I think what Beverly is looking at is trying to get some extra machines. We re talking about thousands of machines.
Stein said he doesn t think Kaufman can replace all of the lost equipment between now and October, leaving her with three or four options.
Among those options: moving to paper ballots, with scanning and tabulating equipment available at each voting precinct, and relying heavily on early voting and voting by mail.
But Kaufman took a more positive stance at a press conference Friday morning.
She said though the loss was like a death in the family, it won t impact the upcoming elections.
I m very optimistic in spite of this great challenge, Kaufman said.
Kaufman said 114 other Texas counties use the same machines, and they have already been contacted by the clerk s office to see how many can be loaned out. The office hasalso contactedthe company who manufactures the machines to see how many can be supplied by October.
In a phone interview with 11 News, the manufacturer said they ve already sent a team to Houston to assess the situation.
November election is not at risk. There will be a solution. It s just too early to tell what form of solution that will be, Marcus MacNeill of Hart InterCivic said.
Kaufman said the Harris County Commissioners Court will meet in an emergency session at 2 p.m. Monday to discuss the fire and possibly to authorize purchases and leases to replace the lost equipment.
I know what my people are capable of and I will be able to sleep at night. I will, said Kaufman.
We re going to continue to, a) try to get to the bottom of what happened out there. And b) to assess what our needs are going to be for the general election, she added.
Meanwhile, fire officials were still working to determine the cause of the blaze.
With all the paper in the building, it had plenty of fuel, and it quickly lit up the pre-dawn sky.
Just after the fire started, it was so bright, one witness said he thought it was the sun.
Thankfully, officials said no other buildings were affected, and no injuries were reported.
Firefighters were still at the scene early Friday evening, putting out hot spots.