Harris County voters could be allowed to vote at any polling location in future elections

Harris County commissioners discuss Election Day voting centers at a Jan. 8 meeting, the first meeting led by new County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Harris County commissioners discuss Election Day voting centers at a Jan. 8 meeting, the first meeting led by new County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Harris County commissioners took the first step Jan. 8 in a process to evaluate whether the county should use Election Day voting centers in future elections.

If the county does move forward with such a plan, voters on Election Day would be allowed to cast ballots at any of the 700 polling locations across the county. Harris County voters can currently vote at any polling location during the early voting period—a total of 46 polling locations were open for early voting during midterm elections last November—but must vote at specific locations on Election Day depending on what precinct they live in.

If approved by commissioners the county would also need to get permission from the Texas Secretary of State before switching to voting centers, Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said. Election Day voting centers are used in 52 other Texas counties, she said, including Travis County and Collin County.

The Jan. 8 commissioners court meeting was the first meeting led by new Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who defeated former Judge Ed Emmett in November. It was also the first meeting since Trautman took over her role after winning a November election against former Clerk Stan Stanart.

Trautman, who expressed support for Election Day voting centers at the meeting, said the issue was something she campaigned on last year. She said the change led to increased voter participation in other places it has been implemented.

"Prioritization is on convenience for the voter," she said at the meeting. "You can vote at your neighborhood precinct location, or where you work, shop or go to school."

Trautman said if the county did move forward with the transition, it would be best to start with a smaller election, citing the upcoming school board elections that will be taking place within several county school districts in May.

Trautman proposed leaving all 700 Election Day polling locations open for at least the first few elections. Over time she said the county can look over voting patterns to determine if polling locations should be consolidated or relocated.

"I cannot emphasize enough, we would check with the community before consolidating any existing voting locations," she said. "We’ll go to that community and ask them what they think. If they don’t want to consolidate, it stays open."

Any change to polling locations would also have to be approved by the court, which reviews a full list of polling locations before each election, Trautman said.

Around 30 residents and representatives from community groups signed up to speak on the voting center proposal at the Jan. 8 meeting. Proponents said the centers would likely increase voter turnout while reducing the number of people who are not able to vote because they went to the wrong polling location and could not get to the proper one before polls closed. Other speakers cautioned about possible unintended consequences when it comes to consolidating polling places.

Commissioners Jack Cagle and Rodney Ellis both emphasized the importance of keeping the public engaged and making sure any consolidation of polling places does not catch people off guard or disenfranchise voters. Ellis said he did not want the focus to be on saving money when debating a consolidation.

"Democracy is not inexpensive," he said. "I don’t look at this so much as a way to save money. We need to spend more money or do something different than what we have been doing to get people out [to vote]."

Other concerns revolved around polling places that could see a large influx of voters once opened to the wider public, and the lines that could form as a result.

The public hearing was recessed with plans to reopen it at a future Commissioners Court meeting, where residents will be given another chance to provide input. After the public hearings, Trautman said she would bring the proposal back to commissioners court at a future meeting, at which point commissioners would vote on whether to apply to the Texas secretary of state for permission to implement the program.

Other meeting news


In other news from the meeting, which lasted nearly 7 hours, Hidalgo said she would like to re-examine ways to improve transparency of the court's actions for the public, including how agendas are posted as well as where and when meetings are held. The aim, she said, is to make meetings less of a burden to attend for residents and to address the issue of overcrowding in the meeting room.

Commissioners also discussed ways to ensure the equitable distribution of funding for flood mitigation projects—approved as a part of a $2.5 billion bond referendum in August—so high- and low-income neighborhoods were being given the same consideration.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.

<

MOST RECENT

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Medical Center sees another week-over-week decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29.

The Willie's Grill & Icehouse restaurant in Copperfield is temporarily closed after reopening in mid-May. (Courtesy Willie's Grill & Icehouse Copperfield)
Study predicts coronavirus spike and other top Houston-area stories

Read some of the most popular Houston-area content on Community Impact Newspaper’s website from this week.

The syrup drums being repurposed into rain barrels were donated from Coca-Cola. (Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)
Galveston Bay Foundation to host virtual, drive-thru rain barrel workshop

The Kemah-based nature conservation nonprofit is hosting a rain barrel workshop this weekend for Houstonians thirsting for a way to help conserve the community’s water supply.

Here are the latest coronavirus updates for Bay Area readers. (Community Impact staff)
MAY 28 ROUNDUP: Bay Area coronavirus updates

Galveston County reported nine additional coronavirus cases and nine new recoveries May 28.

The death total in Harris County now stands at 221. With 11,770 cases confirmed in the county, the death rate stands at 1.9%. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 1 new death confirmed May 28, 8 deaths over past 7 days

By comparison, 23 deaths were confirmed between May 16-22, and 39 deaths were confirmed between May 9-15.

League City’s population is increasing but is leveling off after nearly a decade of consistent growth, while Pasadena's population is decreasing slightly. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Here’s what census population estimates for 2019 show about Bay Area cities

League City’s population is increasing but is leveling off after nearly a decade of consistent growth, while Pasadena's population is decreasing slightly.

Outdoor venues in all Texas counties will be permitted to operate at up to 25% capacity starting May 31. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Spectators to be welcomed back to Texas outdoor sporting events May 31 at 25% of venue capacity

Venue owners must operate under guidelines that facilitate appropriate social distancing.

Students enrolled in the University of Houston College of Nursing can take classes at the Sugar Land campus. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: UH College of Nursing dean reflects on how coronavirus has affected education, profession

Kathryn Tart, dean of the University of Houston’s College of Nursing, spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about how the novel coronavirus is changing the way the university is educating nursing students.

Houston Methodist researchers conducted a 25-patient trial in March and April to examine the safety of convalescent plasma transfusions as a possible treatment for COVID-19. (Courtesy Houston Methodist)
Greater Houston-area health systems examine plasma transfusion as possible COVID-19 treatment

The experimental therapy involves the transfer of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to those who are currently symptomatic.

Cy-Fair ISD's Pridgeon Stadium will soon be home to a Harris County COVID-19 testing site. (Courtesy Cy-Fair ISD)
Harris County COVID-19 testing centers relocating to Pasadena, Cy-Fair

The county continues to operate a total of six testing locations, where up to 1,700 residents can access testing each day.

Each eligible child will receive $285 in benefits. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Some Texas students eligible for one-time federal benefit to aid with food purchases

Texas received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide more than $1 billion in pandemic food benefits.

According to METRO, the two employees were a bus controller and a bus repairman, neither of whom had contact with the public. The bus controller has not worked for METRO since May 17. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Two more METRO employees test positive

According to METRO, the two employees were a bus controller and a bus repairman, neither of whom had contact with the public. The bus controller has not worked for METRO since May 17.