Austin at Large: The Front Lines of Democracy: As voting became a battleground, Dana DeBeauvoir stood up for all of our rights – News

I have never covered an election in Travis County that Dana DeBeauvoir did not present; the county clerk, herself among Texas’ longest-serving local elected officials, is said to have appeared on the Democratic primary ballot for the 10th time next March. But she won’t. “The last straw was when I got shingles on the right side of my face on election day,” she laughed to me earlier this week. She laughs at a lot of things, including the way she’s worn her hair for much of her career. “Fortunately, my hair covers this side of my face. But it to injure. “

This is not the first, nor the worst, misfortune to a woman who, until Harris County’s turn in the voting rights spotlight in 2020, suffered the brunt of decades of criticism of how the Texas led the election. But it was a sign. “I realized that the filing period was within two weeks” of this last E day, DeBeauvoir said, “and I intended to run on [this past] Saturday and file, but it all seemed so … intimidating. So I thought it was a very good time “to announce her retirement from the post she had held since 1986. She pledged to stay to organize the special elections at the end of January to fulfill the unexpired mandate of the member of the Council Greg Casar, currently a candidate for Congress. On January 28, she will be 68 and unemployed. Then it’s up to us to continue. “I have to overcome the guilt of being the general leaving the battlefield,” said it, and finding someone over, and not knowing what to expect in the future. It’s scary, so I held on until the very last minute. … I’m still me – even going through this process; it’s a job that I loved so much, and I’m grateful to the people of Travis County for hiring me through the ballot. It was a great ride. “

It’s a different job now

To get a feel for all that changed during DeBeauvoir’s tenure as county clerk, when I was first elected here as a Cub reporter – when she was first re-elected, in 1990 – I was a stringer for the deceased Dallas Times-Herald, working alongside the late Molly Ivins and Ross Ramsey, who would co-found The Texas Tribune almost two decades later. At the time, our affairs were still only loosely computerized, as were our elections; we voted by marking the paper ballots with graphite pencils as a test, which were placed in physical boxes that had to be picked up when the office closed and generally deposited in the basement of the old municipal auditorium , where hordes of election workers and venerable old pieces of machinery counted and checked the results two or three times until the early hours of the morning.

The lengthy ballot counting process drew polite but persistent grunts from campaigns and office holders, to which DeBeauvoir responded with an equally persistent plea for more resources and improved technologies. After the uncertainties of the 2000 election swept through the streets of Travis County, the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002 made DeBeauvoir’s cause the nation’s cause; it would soon be rolling out the county’s first electronic voting machines, the eSlate model produced by Austin-based Hart InterCivic, part of a family of companies that has been printing ballots in Texas for nearly a century.

DeBeauvoir wasn’t a particularly tech-savvy type herself, and she also oversaw the keeping of other Travis County records, from marriage licenses to steer marks, on a semi-automatic basis. She understood that, other things being equal, electronic voting would be more efficient and accurate than past practice and was a zealous evangelist for its adoption. However, as you may recall, it didn’t take long for questions about the integrity of the ‘black box vote’ to begin to emerge, mainly on the left, where activists practically convinced themselves that President George W. Bush would obtain, or himself re-elected by exploiting the loopholes in the voting machines. After a while, DeBeauvoir came to believe that academics working on election security were right and that none of the companies in the industry had the security and auditability requirements (including a paper trail verifiable by officials. voters) that the task demanded.

This has led to a multi-year collaboration with many of its sharpest critics to produce the STAR Vote platform (Secure, Transparent, Auditable, Reliable). He turned out to be the one who ran away; companies have refused to build it, public funds have not been disbursed, and for now it remains a hypothetical best-case solution. But the effort was not in vain. “It’s a highly technical job now, with testing and auditing, and I hope STAR Vote has pushed us down the road.”

His final years in office also included the widowhood and death of DeBeauvoir’s mother, putting her own childhood as a survivor of abuse into perspective. From a young age, she resisted bullies, now including the MAGAmuffins and conspirators who took over the black box and ran for the rightmost lane of the trail. “People asked: was it the ugly people at the polling stations? The stupid attorney general? Were they part of my decision to leave? She stops to let her laughter die off; she’s 100% serious now. “Absolutely not.” She believes the office is prepared but will still need a leader with “skills, very good judgment and a lot of intelligence and communication skills.” I hope we elect someone with all of this. She firmly believes that elections should be run by an independent office holder and not by an administrator who can “be threatened and fired at the drop of a hat,” and that the clerk should also take charge of the registration of office holders. voters in the assessor’s office where people used to pay. their local taxes. “There is a malfunction in this system, and of course a story of racism. I would like that to be broken by the next county clerk.”

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