WilCo commissioners approve applying for vote centers

Williamson County voters may have the opportunity to cast ballots in the May and November elections at any polling location in the county, regardless of the precinct in which they live.

On Feb. 19, Williamson County commissioners gave their approval for the Elections Office to apply to the state to run countywide vote centers for the two 2013 elections.

"Once I submit the application, we'll just wait to see if the [Texas] secretary of state approves it," Williamson County Elections Administrator Rick Barron said, adding that once he compiles the testimony from the public hearings, he can submit the application.

The commissioners held two public hearings Feb. 11 and Feb. 19.

During the public hearings, some residents raised concerns about all-electronic voting and the vote center locations.

Commissioner Lisa Birkman said she understood the concerns people have about electronic voting.

"I've been the winner in five very contested races," Birkman said. "I understand how every vote counts."

Georgetown native Paulette Taylor said she hoped that other options will be considered for vote center locations other than those already proposed.

"My only concern is that they be inclusive and accessible," Taylor said, particularly a possible centralized location between The Wesleyan at Scenic and Old Town Georgetown.

"It's an invitation in itself," she said. "As long as we've got accessibility, it speaks volumes to our young people and our seniors."

Birkman also said she knows vote center locations can be an issue, adding that while one location may be more centralized, it may not have parking availability.

Jennifer Pollastro of Liberty Hill said she does not have a problem with the concept of being able to vote anywhere, but as a longtime poll worker, she is concerned that any potential reduction of polling places could disenfranchise some voters if wait times increase.

Jose Orta, who spoke on behalf of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national group that supports the civil rights of the Hispanic population, said vote centers increase accessibility, and for that reason he supported having voter centers in the county.

Commissioners also replaced Commissioner Ron Morrison on the vote centers committee with Birkman after he stepped down from his role to avoid any potential conflict of interest. Birkman said the change occurred because Morrison is up for re-election in 2014, and she was recently re-elected.

Barron said it could take about a week to receive a response from the state.