Williamson County commissioners to consider vote centers

At their Feb. 5 meeting, Williamson County Commissioners set a public hearing to gather feedback on a proposal to establish vote centers for future elections.

Establishing vote centers, or a countywide polling place program, would allow voters to cast electronic ballots at any polling location throughout the county on election day.

Elections Administrator Rick Barron and Lubbock County officials gave a presentation on the program during the meeting. Lubbock County was the first county in the state to establish vote centers, during the November 2006 general election.

"I believe it's more accurate and secure," Barron said.

Vote centers could help with voter convenience and reduce the number of election workers, provisional ballots and expenses, he said. The program would not affect early voting or remove voting centers from rural areas.

'We have a paper trail'

Several people at the meeting voiced concerns about the possibility of voter fraud if the county moved to all-electronic voting.

"We have a paper trail," Barron said. "We can print out every ballot face if needed for a recount. It's a misconception that we don't have one."

Karen Carter, Williamson County Democratic Party chairwoman, said her party had not discussed the issue, but she said she has concerns.

"I still have not become convinced that any election is totally safe without a reliable paper trail," Carter said. "In the event that a recount is done, you should be able to get the information verified by a system that is independent of the voting machine itself, and right now we do not have that ability."

Bill Fairbrother, Williamson County Republican Party chairman, said he thought the program showed a lot of promise.

"The key question is, 'Are our voters ready to accept all-electronic [ballots]?'" he said.

He pointed out that more than half of the county's voters already cast their ballots electronically during early voting but that now is the time to get feedback from the rest of the voters and to continue to explore possible problems and pitfalls.

Travis County changes

Williamson County's neighbor to the south, Travis County, implemented vote centers for the first time during the November 2012 election, and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the process went well.

"I think it was very successful with voters," she said. "Voters loved it."

Voters were not required to stay in their home precincts to cast ballots, and the county saved about $500,000—what it might have cost them to re-establish precinct polling centers after precinct lines in the county were redrawn, DeBeauvoir said.

To make election day go more smoothly, she said, officials are looking at ways to use social media to let voters know in real time where long lines are.

The public hearing for Williamson County residents will be from 6–8 p.m. Feb. 11 in the commissioners courtroom at the Williamson County Courthouse, 710 S. Main St., Georgetown. Residents will also be able to address commissioners on the issue during the court's Feb. 19 meeting, which begins at 9:30 a.m.