Harris County voters may soon be able to cast ballots at any of the county’s 700 polling locations—regardless of which precinct they live in—as early as the May 4 election.
The Harris County Commissioners Court will consider submitting an application to the Texas Secretary of State for permission to participate in the countywide polling place program during its Feb. 12 meeting. The deadline to apply for the May election is Feb. 18.
“Countywide voting centers simply means that all polling locations are open to all eligible voters in Harris County,” Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said during a Feb. 5 public meeting at Klein Cain High School.
Trautman said implementing countywide voting centers would enhance voter convenience and satisfaction, while easing voter confusion over assigned polling locations and reducing administration costs. Harris County voters can currently vote at any polling location during the early voting period but must vote at their assigned polling location based on the precinct they live in on election day.
“There are people all over Harris County who are being disenfranchised because [the current voting system]is simply too confusing for them or it’s just not convenient,” she said. “So, all I’m about is making voting more convenient and simpler so that more people can cast votes.”
If the Secretary of State grants approval, the next step is to educate voters on voting day processes and polling locations to further increase voter turnout, Trautman said. Strategies include running ads on Harris County TV access stations, minority outreach efforts and hosting more community meetings like the one held Feb. 5.
After a few elections with the new system, Trautman said the county can look at voting patterns to determine voter needs and if polling locations should be consolidated or relocated. However, she added that local communities would be consulted before consolidating polling locations.
Attendees at the Feb. 5 meeting, many of which were election day judges and volunteers, were generally in favor of the proposed changes.
“It’s been really sad for me to sit [in a voting center]and have people show up [at the wrong location]… and I have to send them away,” said one attendee, who served as a Harris County election judge for the past decade. “A lot of them say, ‘I just don’t have time for this stuff,’ and they don’t vote.”
Other attendees voiced concern over potential voter fraud and logistic issues.
However, Trautman said the new voting program will not compromise voter integrity, as all polling locations will still be required to uphold the same standards, such as housing electronic machines and electronic poll books that contain all registered voters.
Trautman said if approved, the proposed plan would be implemented prior to the November election to sort out logistic issues.
“We must start with a smaller election. That way we can see whatever kinks need to be worked out,” she said.