Hays County residents may be able to vote at any polling place in the county during both early voting and on Election Day this November, an experience Election Administrator Jennifer Anderson hopes will be more convenient and straightforward for voters.
Traditionally, residents who choose to cast their ballot during early voting may do so at any polling place in the county, but on Election Day, they are required to vote at the polling place that corresponds with the precinct in which they live.
County officials are hoping to change that.
Hays County commissioners unanimously voted at their Feb. 26 meeting to authorize Anderson, on behalf of the county, to apply for the Texas Secretary of State’s Countywide Polling Place Program. The resolution stated that the court would support participation in the program.
“I think that [participation in the program]will, and this is what we’re hoping for, that it will increase voter participation, maybe decrease the confusion, also, of people having to be turned away because they’re not in the proper location,” said Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe.
Anderson said this would eliminate confusion among voters who might not know which polling place they can vote at on Election Day, and, instead, would allow residents to cast their ballot at any polling place in the county, as is allowed during early voting.
“[The program] would also offer people the ability to vote in places that are convenient to them,” Anderson said. “Maybe there’s a polling place a mile from their home, but it’s not in their precinct—they could still go there.”
She said participation in the program may save money in the future as well because the county would be allowed to close under-used polling locations—something not currently allowed, as there must be polling locations in every precinct.
“The principle behind that is you would be able to reduce the number of polling places,” Anderson said. “Of course, we wouldn’t do that up front. But certainly, if after several years we see a voting center is not being utilized, we wouldn’t want to continue to spend money to keep that open.”
The Hays County Commissioners Court and Anderson are set to hold a public meeting on April 23 to inform the public about the program. Two later meetings, the dates of which have yet to be determined, will be held to gather public input regarding the county’s potential participation in the program.
Anderson said she will establish a polling-place study committee comprised of stakeholders from local jurisdictions and representatives from local minority organizations and election resource organizations to identify potential countywide polling locations.
Hays County Democratic Party Chair Donna Haschke spoke in support of the county’s potential participation in the program at the meeting.
“This court, whatever the majority party has been in the past, has always been a proponent of universal suffrage,” Haschke said. “And in this, the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States, there is no better way to honor the efforts of all who came before us and worked to broaden access to the ballot than to continue to change with the times and to take full advantage of the technology that will support our efforts to provide even more robust participation of Hays County voters in our elections.”
Anderson said she has heard unanimous support for the county joining the program.
“I know there are a lot of jurisdictions, cities, schools that are waiting for the court to take action and support because they’re willing and ready to have their governing bodies also add support to this program,” Anderson said.
Additionally, Anderson said she believes countywide polling locations will significantly reduce the number of provisional ballots cast.
“I do believe that will cut down tremendously on provisional ballots because we have a lot of provisional ballots that are cast because people are in the wrong polling place—and, of course, by law those don’t count,” Anderson said. “So this would cut that out and it would also offer people the ability to vote in places that are convenient to them.”
In order to obtain acceptance into the Countywide Polling Place Program, Anderson said she must obtain support from all jurisdictions within the county and the county must host a series of public hearings. Furthermore, the county must provide the Texas Secretary of State a description of a clear methodology for selecting polling places, something that will be drafted by the polling-place study committee.
The application will be submitted to the state in August and the county will pilot the program in the November election. Following the election, the county must provide a written report to the state which will then determine whether or not the county successfully implemented the program.
If the state finds that Hays County successfully implemented the program, it will be authorized to continue to participate in the program for future elections.
“I think this is a great step forward,” said Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra.