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Travis court supports vote center

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 by Michael Kanin

On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court signaled its support for County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir’s plan to proceed with a program that could result in easier access to polling places for Travis citizens. If employed, the approach would utilize vote centers to offer county residents more flexibility come Election Day.


DeBeauvoir hopes to have the new process in place in time for the constitutional election this November. That prospect, however, depends on pending action at the Texas Legislature. “We would like permission to proceed … including working at the legislature to see that the bill that allows us to do this in November will be finally passed,” she told the court.


She added that she expects the legislature to approve of the centers as part of the Texas Secretary of State’s omnibus bill.


The centers would allow voters to use any of a number of different polling places – from a countywide total of 175 locations – when casting their votes on Election Day. “The idea is that you wouldn’t necessarily have to limit yourself to voting in the neighborhood polling place,” DeBeauvoir told the court. “In the same way that you can vote anywhere you want during early voting … we would make the same concept apply to Election Day.”


Though a few current precincts would close in conjunction with DeBeauvoir’s plan, she noted that most Travis County citizens would, at least for the November election, still be able to use their local polling place after such a plan is enacted.


DeBeauvoir cited a potential reduction in the number of provisional ballots as a key benefit of the new approach. She noted that a major factor in the use of provisional ballots is that the voter is “usually … in the wrong place.”


“Vote centers solve that problem, so we may very well be able to address a large portion of the number of provisional ballots that we take in,” she said. “That cuts a lot of the workload and takes a lot of the pressure off voters because if they are in the wrong precinct on Election Day and they vote a provisional ballot, unfortunately, that provisional ballot will not be counted.”


County Judge Sam Biscoe went directly to the bottom line. “You don’t anticipate any added costs?” he asked.


DeBeauvoir affirmed that there would be no added costs but also noted that there would be no real savings, should the court elect to change its procedures.


Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt still had some concerns. “This is a hot topic statewide,” she said. “We know that it was piloted in Lubbock and we saw some concerning statistics coming out of Lubbock with regard to disenfranchisement of certain populations – particularly populations of color.”


A memo to the court from DeBeauvoir hinted at that issue. She noted that there were complaints that “polling places have moved too far away from neighborhoods thereby potentially disenfranchising poor, disabled, or elderly voters and persons with transportation issues.”


DeBeauvoir assured Eckhardt that the county would keep track of any changes on Election Day. “We will have easily collected data for the number of people who vote on Election Day in a vote center,” she said.


The court will hold a public hearing on the matter sometime in June or July. DeBeauvoir wants to submit a proposal for action to the Texas Secretary of State by August 3.

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