County clerk's invention has already cost taxpayers millions

Stan Stanart has spent $2.75 million of public funds based on receipts

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - The Harris County Clerk has spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to build, from the ground up, an electronic voter check-in system at the polls, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

"It's taken more than two-and-a-half years. There's been investments of more than $2 million, and we don't really have anything to show for it yet," said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen, a citizen advocacy group.

Based on receipts provided by his office, Stan Stanart, an elected official in his second term, has spent $2.75 million of public funds, so far, inventing what he calls an "electronic poll book."

It is unclear how much more Stanart plans to spend to bring the project to fruition or how much the system will cost in annual maintenance.

Stanart has said his project could ultimately offer substantial savings to Harris County versus an "off-the-shelf system" which by Stanart's estimates would cost between $3.99 million and $6.12 million. (View document)

Stanart's project principally consists of an iPad, custom software and a customized stand to hold the iPad. The finished product will alleviate long lines at voting locations by making the check-in process more efficient, Stanart has said.

The clerk procured hundreds of individual parts for the project, including thousands of dollars of washers, magnets and foam.

The purchase of 2,400 iPads was made in July 2015. The vast majority of those iPads stayed in a warehouse, unopened and unused for more than two years.

Stanart has said he is now in the process of mating the iPads to his custom-built stands. He rolled out less than 100 of them in November for a test run. The county clerk has not publicized the results of that initial foray, but has said he plans the full implementation of his system in March's primaries.

"I think most reasonable people would say you probably shouldn't have spent $1 million on iPads if you weren't going to use them sometime soon," Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

Both Ellis and Shelley said the idea of automating the voter check-in process is a worthy pursuit, but questioned why the project has not had more transparency.

Stanart's office repeatedly declined our requests to talk about the gadget for this story or let Channel 2 Investigates see the final iteration.

Harris County commissioners were presented a demonstration of Stanart's swiveling stand in June, but it is not clear who has seen Stanart's creation as a fully-functioning system, ready to handle voting day in one of the country's most populated counties.

"I'd like to see them and if I'm not permitted to do that, I guess there will be another press conference," Ellis said.

If the county clerk's system is successful, it is unclear who will benefit from the success of the publicly-funded project. If a patent is filed, it is unclear who will hold it.

Conceivably, Stanart, a public official using public resources, could personally benefit from the project.

The Harris County Attorney's Office confirms there has been an initial conversation regarding the possible licensure of the "electronic poll book" system to other jurisdictions.

"I don't want to overstate or imply that anyone is entitled to any particular sum of money or any money at all. It's simply part of the discussions," First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said.

Soard said that paying Stanart additional money for the invention would require the approval of Harris County Commissioners.

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