Secretary of State to Launch Next Application Round
Counties interested in applying for participation in the Countywide Election Day Polling Places Program (countywide precincts) need to watch their mailbox.
As of press time, the Office of the Secretary of State (SOS) was developing an application memo to Texas counties with a probable application deadline near the end of February, said Randall Dillard, director of communications for the SOS.
“We anticipate asking counties to notify us by early February if they intend to participate in the countywide election precinct program,” Dillard said. The projected application deadline is the end of February. The next eligible election is the May 8, 2010, uniform election date; the March primaries are not eligible.
Countywide precincts, or vote centers, allow voters the option of voting at countywide polling places on Election Day instead of their assigned precinct polling locations. The pilot program was authorized by the 79th Legislature’s House Bill 758 and then reauthorized by the 80th Legislature’s House Bill 3105.
House Bill 719 passed by the 81st Texas Legislature continues the program and allows the SOS to select three counties with a population of 100,000 or more and two counties with a population of less than 100,000 to participate in each eligible election.
The new legislation also expanded the number of eligible elections and now includes a constitutional amendment election in addition to the general election for state and county offices, a countywide election that takes place on the uniform election date in May, and a joint election when a county is holding any of the elections mentioned above with a local political subdivision.
Participating counties have to meet several requirements including the following minimum conditions:
v The county must use direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines at every voting station.
v The county must have implemented a computerized voter registration list that allows an elections officer to immediately verify that a voter has not already voted in the same election at another location. This requires Internet connectivity at each polling location.
v The county must conduct a public hearing to inform and solicit opinions from voters and interested parties on participation in the program. A transcript of the hearing must then be submitted to the SOS.
v The total number of countywide polling places may not be less than 50 percent of the number of precinct polling places that would otherwise be located in the county.
Four counties used countywide precincts in the Nov. 3, 2009, election: Collin, Erath, Galveston and Lubbock.
“We loved the concept and tossed it to our community who also loved the idea,” said Erath County Clerk Gwinda Jones. “We already used totally electronic voting machines for voting and were in the process of getting electronic poll books, so after our community embraced the idea of vote centers, we applied.”
Erath County always drops down to four polling places for the constitutional amendment elections, one in each commissioner precinct, but this time voters had the option of voting at any of them instead of being limited to one.
“Our voters are overwhelmingly in support of vote centers,” Jones said. “We did have a good turn out, and a lot of our voters voted in locations that were not their assigned polling place. I feel that vote centers do pull in voters because of the convenience. Anyone driving by can stop and vote.”
Erath County plans to apply for continued participation, Jones said.
Galveston County identified several obstacles to overcome before the county considers the continued use of vote centers.
According to Galveston County’s program participation report submitted to the SOS on Dec. 10, 2009, the public perception of the vote center system was met with “broad approval.” However, the report noted “internal and external reservations,” stating the following: “For a large election with entity involvement, Galveston County will need to supply more vote centers if the system is to sustain long-term viability and public support. Galveston County will have to locate resources to supply the additional technological infrastructure necessary to support any future Election Day vote centers.”
“Countywide voting is an excellent program,” said Douglas T. Godinich, Galveston County election coordinator. “It is our hope state funding becomes available to help expand and improve the system we have implemented.”
Lubbock County was the only county in the state to participate in the original pilot program during the Nov. 7, 2006, general election and has continued participation.
“Lubbock County has had such an incredible response from our citizens utilizing the countywide precincts,” said Lubbock County Commissioner Patti Jones. “The comment we hear the most is that individuals like the ability to be able to vote at any location on Election Day. With schedules as busy as they are today, citizens don’t have to try to make it back across town before the polls close.
“There are other advantages for the county,” Jones continued, “such as fewer election workers, less confusion, etc. We at Lubbock County encourage all counties, no matter what size, to consider the countywide precincts in the future.”
To read an in-depth account of Lubbock County’s experience with countywide precincts, go to https://countyprogress.com/index.php?page=legacy&article=107&tableDB=articles_1-teasers.
By Julie Anderson