Vote centers coming to Williamson County

Posted in Commissioners Court, Elections, Williamson County at 2:34 pm by wcnews

It looks like it’s a done deal that we will have vote centers for future elections in Williamson County.

County commissioners approved the countywide polling place program at their Feb. 19 meeting, and an application was sent to the state Feb. 27. As of press time March 8, the county was awaiting final approval from the Texas secretary of state’s office.

County Elections Administrator Rick Barron said vote centers could help with voter convenience and reduce the number of election workers, provisional ballots and expenses. The program would not remove voting centers from rural areas.

“It’s an efficient way to conduct voting now,” Barron said. “People can vote where it’s convenient for them.”

The transition to vote centers also means a change to only electronic voting, Barron said.

In past elections, Williamson County had almost entirely switched to only electronic voting with a few precincts offering paper ballots, he said.

Barron said he anticipates more people voting early at the new centers, which could help reduce wait times for election day voting.

“Some people would hold out until election day because they wanted to vote on a paper ballot,” he said, “So we may have an increase in early voting.”

Paper mail-in ballots would still be available for voters 65 and older, disabled individuals and those traveling outside the U.S. during early voting and on election day.

In the November 2012 election, approximately 75 percent of voters used electronic voting machines—65 percent during early voting and 10 percent on election day, Barron said.

Concerns over the accuracy of electronic voting were raised during two public hearings hosted by the Commissioners Court; however, Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said the county has not had accuracy issues with electronic voting in the past.

“If we have an issue with the accuracy of the vote, we have a problem already,” Covey said.

Barron said the county’s electronic voting machines are equipped with three independent memory sources that allow election officials to tally the votes two other ways if one part of the machine fails.

“Electronic voting is the safest and most accurate way to vote,” he said, adding that the machines help streamline tallying votes. “There is a misconception that we don’t have a paper trail.”

Despite all that there are still concerns.

Leander resident Karen Carter, who also serves as the Williamson County Democratic Party chairwoman, said she is not convinced vote centers will be convenient because of the reduced number of voting locations.

Carter, who said she was speaking as a voter and not a representative of the Democratic Party, also served on the county’s vote center committee and said she hopes to ensure people in lower-income areas and with transportation issues would not be disenfranchised as the number of polling places are reduced.

Bill Fairbrother, Williamson County Republican Party chairman who also served on the committee, said he thought the program showed promise.

I think the vote centers are a good addition. I would like to hear an exact explanation of the paper trail that Barron refers to above. And certainly this only needs to make it easier for everyone to vote, and not make if harder for anyone to vote. I assume this still, at least for now, has to be precleared by the Department of Justice, since it is a voting change.

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