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Vote centers in Fort Bend

I continue to like this idea.

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Voters may get more flexibility on Election Day as Fort Bend become the largest county in the Houston area to consider moving away from precinct polling sites.

“A voter could vote at any location on Election Day just like they do in early voting,” said John Oldham, Fort Bend’s election administrator.

The proposal to participate in the Texas Countywide Polling Place Program will be weighed at several upcoming meetings. The 2005 Legislature authorized counties to reduce the number of polling locations by up to half and allow voters to cast ballots where they choose. The number of places opting to use “vote centers” more than doubled over the last two years to 26, including Travis and Galvestion counties. Fort Bend and three others have announced their intent to file an application for the program by the August deadline.

“Vote centers” first appeared in Colorado in 2003 after a county clerk watched police block voters from entering the courthouse after 7 p.m. Voters had gone to the wrong precinct to cast their ballot but could not make it to the correct location before polls closed. Now, at least nine other states have allowed or tested the system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus noted that vote centers can save money, streamline ballot oversight and provide convenience for voters. About two-thirds of Fort Bend ballots are cast during early voting, which he said could signal that similar flexibility on Election Day would be well received.

“But any changes to where and how people vote can have collateral lower turnout. You’ll have people used to voting in a certain place,” Rottinghaus said. “There’s always an unknown factor, too. It may be intimidating for people who don’t regularly vote, or the location of polling places could make it less convenient for some.”

[…]

The primary reason Oldham said he wanted to switch to vote centers was to reduce the number of provisional ballots cast when a person shows up to the wrong location. That was the case for 26 of 242 provisional ballots in 2014 and 71 of 1,057 in 2012.

I have been a supporter of vote centers since I first heard of the idea, largely for the reason given in that last paragraph above. The concern about confusion and possibly lower turnout is legitimate, but as I said in that second post I linked to, it can be dealt with by sufficient outreach, and by placing some vote centers in current precinct locations. Some of that outreach can be to figure out where they need to be. And you may notice that the first post I linked to is from 2009. We’ve had vote centers for several years now, and as you can see from the map in the Chron story, we have a couple dozen counties around the state using them. We don’t need to guess about possible effects on turnout, we should have more than enough data by now to draw conclusions about it. Perhaps one of our oft-quoted political experts can get on that.

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One Comment

  1. Mainstream says:

    In general, vote centers would likely have better trained officials and cost less to operate. The only caution I raise is whether for those voters without access to a car, or too proud to ask for a ride to the polls, the increased distance to the polling site would discourage their voting.