After several hours of listening to public opinions both of support and concern regarding the implementation of a countywide polling place program, Harris County Commissioners Court opted to proceed with the application process to participate in the program Feb. 12.

Participation in the program would allow Harris County voters to cast ballots at any of the 700 polling locations across the county. While Harris county voters can currently vote at any polling location during the early voting period, on election day voters are restricted to their assigned polling location based on the voting precinct in which they live.

According to County Clerk Diane Trautman, the countywide polling place program is used in 52 other Texas counties.

The item was previously discussed at the Jan. 8 Commissioners Court meeting, at which roughly 30 residents and representatives from community groups signed up to speak on the proposed program during the public hearing portion of the meeting. While several of those individuals were able to speak Jan. 8, the public hearing was recessed and reopened Feb. 12 for the remaining speakers.

During the continuation of the public hearing Feb. 12, supporters of the program touted anticipated increased voter participation in Harris County, stating that the program would eliminate confusion over assigned polling locations while making it more convenient for residents to complete their civic duties.

"We're asking you to support the countywide voting places so that we can increase accessibility," an attendee said during the public hearing. "In the places that have used countywide voting, we have found that voting [participation] goes up. I think we need to do what we can to make [voting] easier for people."

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Trautman proposed leaving all 700 election day polling locations open for the first few elections and then suggested the court could look at voting patterns to determine if polling locations should be consolidated or relocated.

Opponents of the program shared concerns over the potential relocation or closure of longtime polling locations, as they believe it could hinder voter turnout for residents who are accustomed to voting at their preferred polling location.

"[The consolidation or relocation of polling locations] would dismantle long-established neighborhood voting locations," an attendee said during the public hearing.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle proposed applying for the program without the option to relocate or consolidate polling locations and stated that he would not be in favor of not closing any traditional voting locations in the near future.

Following the lengthy public hearing and discussion between the judge and commissioners, the court unanimously authorized Trautman to submit an application to the Texas secretary of state to participate in the program, authorized by the Texas Election Code and subject to review by the county attorney.

Upon the application submission and pending approval from the Texas secretary of state, Trautman said during a community meeting Feb. 5 the countywide polling place program could be implemented in Harris County as early as the upcoming May election.