Hays County is nearing the end of its state application process to switch to countywide polling, a system that would allow registered voters to cast their ballot at any county polling location not only during early voting, but on election day as well.
Both supporters and opponents of the proposed system, sometimes referred to as a vote center system, came out to voice their opinions at an April 23 public hearing at Hays County Commissioners Court.
Hays County Election Administrator Jennifer Anderson said she hopes to have an application submitted to the state on behalf of the county by the first week of May. If it is approved, Hays County will use the countywide polling system for the first time in November.
Hays County resident Sam Brannon was one of two people who spoke out against switching to countywide polling at the public hearing, citing concerns that the issue had not been publicized well enough and that it could lead to a decreased number of polling places in the future.
Anderson pointed out that the issue had been discussed in open meetings among all of the governmental bodies of the county as they considered—and ultimately approved—resolutions to support the application to switch to a countywide polling system, as is required by the state.
Anderson also said that separate from those meetings, the April 23 hearing was the fourth public event hosted or coordinated by the county.
“[Anderson] wrote in her presentation that one unanticipated finding is the much stronger and positive effect vote centers have on voter turnout among non-habitual voters,” Brannon said. “And you know, I can’t imagine how anybody could justify how that’s going to serve this republic, how that’s going to serve democracy in Hays County to be ushering into the polls the least-informed voters who would not otherwise vote, just to cancel out my vote.”
Anderson said at a Feb. 27 Commissioners Court meeting that countywide polling could lead to fewer polling locations in the future, as the county would have the authority to close demonstrably under-used polling locations.
“The principle behind that is, you would be able to reduce the number of polling places,” Anderson said in February. “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.”
More than a dozen county residents came to the public hearing to speak in favor of a countywide polling system, many of them noting that such a system could eliminate confusion some voters have about which precinct they have to vote in, a problem that occurred most recently at Texas State University in 2018.
Local resident Brandon James said he believes the ease-of-access voting centers could provide is one of the main reasons why Hays County should move forward with them. James also said he hopes the county makes Texas State a voting center if the application is approved, because some students have difficulty going to polling locations off campus.
Nicholas Hoover, who served as a local election worker for multiple years, said he supports countywide polling because he has seen firsthand how many people are often confused and are unsure of which precinct they have to vote in on election day.
“Working the polls, it is very discouraging to have to turn people away because they’ve come to the wrong precinct,” Hoover said. “Sometimes people get confused about where to go and what to do and I think many people will have this problem solved by having these voting centers around the county. I think it’s important that we make sure that as many people as possible can vote.”