02.07.13

Vote centers may be coming to Williamson County

Posted in Commissioners Court, Elections, Williamson County at 3:59 pm by wcnews

At this week’s Commissioners Court meeting the commissioners began discussing the use of “vote centers” on election day for future elections.

Williamson County may switch to voting centers that would allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in the county, rather than at precinct-specific locations.

About 60 percent of voters in the county already cast their ballots electronically at such centers during early voting. The centers are not precinct specific, County Elections Administrator Rick Barron said.

The possible switch for election day voting would essentially do away with paper ballots, causing some concerned residents to speak up Tuesday at a commissioners meeting. Some also questioned how the new system would affect rural voters’ access to the polls.

Barron told commissioners voting centers are easier for the public and that electronic voting is actually more accurate and secure. He that said in the November election, 107 voters showed up at the wrong polling place and had to cast provisional ballots.

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The benefits of voting centers include needing fewer election workers, making it easier to fill bilingual worker slots and cutting down on election-related expenses. Barron said purchasing printers for the voting centers would cost about $800 to $1,000 each.

As for cutting the number of polling locations in rural areas, officials said that won’t happen. Any reductions would be in urban areas, they said.

There are some who are worried about going to an all paperless system.

Several people at the meeting voiced concerns about the possibility of voter fraud if the county moved to all-electronic voting.

“We have a paper trail,” Barron said. “We can print out every ballot face if needed for a recount. It’s a misconception that we don’t have one.”

Karen Carter, Williamson County Democratic Party chairwoman, said her party had not discussed the issue, but she said she has concerns.

“I still have not become convinced that any election is totally safe without a reliable paper trail,” Carter said. “In the event that a recount is done, you should be able to get the information verified by a system that is independent of the voting machine itself, and right now we do not have that ability.”

Bill Fairbrother, Williamson County Republican Party chairman, said he thought the program showed a lot of promise.

“The key question is, ‘Are our voters ready to accept all-electronic [ballots]?’” he said.

He pointed out that more than half of the county’s voters already cast their ballots electronically during early voting but that now is the time to get feedback from the rest of the voters and to continue to explore possible problems and pitfalls.

Paper ballots are used less and less each election cycle, and the all-electric voting hurdle will be easier to overcome as time goes by.  And early voting has been all electronic in Williamson County for several cycles now.  As far as security and a paper trail, the concerns are valid.  I’ve always thought that if the ATM can give you a receipt, so can a voting machine.

Vote centers make sense for Williamson County especially along the more urban southern county line. As people that work in Austin head back north from work, they could easily stop at vote centers on their way home and vote in a more convenient location.  Any discussion of modernizing how we vote is worthy discussion to have.

Further Reading:
The Future Of Voting.
Why Tuesday?

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