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Travis County moves forward on vote centers

Thursday, June 23, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The Travis County Commissioners’ Court authorized County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to move ahead with changes to Election Day proceedings in its jurisdiction. If approved by the Texas Secretary of State, the new approach would move Travis officials away from some characteristics of precinct-based voting.


The court’s authorization came over the objections of a handful of concerned county residents, including Travis Republican Party chair Rosemary Edwards. The county’s Democratic Party chair, Andy Brown, is in favor of the idea.


If approved, the centers would be something of a pilot program for the 2011 election.


DeBeauvoir sees the pending change as a boon to the voting populace. “In very simple terms what a vote center represents is the ability for the voter, on election day, to have the same kind of convenience and the same kind of…choice of voting in more than one location in the same way that they do for early voting,” she said.


Travis County would be the largest Texas jurisdiction to implement the so-called vote centers approach on Election Day. If approved, it would allow Travis County residents to utilize any one of a number of voting facilities located throughout the region. Though voters would not have to use their local precincts, DeBeavoir insists that most neighborhood polling stations would remain open.


“What we’d like to try for (in) November 2011 is a soft program,” she said. “We’re going to keep virtually all of our polling places in Travis County…but we’re going to turn them into vote centers.”


Edwards argued that vote centers could disenfranchise older, less mobile voters who would be unable to vote, should their neighborhood polling places close. She also wondered about equal party representation on voting day.


“There is no provision that I am aware of in the election code to require that workers from both parties serve in the vote centers,” she said. “This concerns me a great deal.”


DeBeauvoir admitted that this was the case. However, she suggested a fix. “Whatever that polling place had been, and those term appointees for that polling place, we will just consider those the appropriate appointees for the vote centers.”


For his part, Brown liked the idea. “We feel this is a step in the right direction,” he said.


Edwards’ and Brown’s positions are the direct opposite of those held by their state level counterparts.


The court acted unanimously to grant DeBeauvoir the authority to petition the Texas Secretary of State for permission to move forward. DeBeauvoir was careful to point out that the centers could not be used for party primaries.


Her request must be submitted by August 3.

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