Imagine voting anywhere in the county — just heading to the most convenient polling place — on Election Day.
That might be the new reality in Tarrant County as soon as May 2019.
A proposal would trade traditional precinct polling sites for “vote centers” that would let “people vote anywhere in the county on Election Day,” Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia on Tuesday told county commissioners.
The goal, he said, is simply “to give options to people.”
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This new approach — which could still include a paper trail for voters who want one — is geared to save money, boost voter turnout and make voting easier by not locking voters in to only one polling place, Garcia said.
“I’m supportive of this, of moving forward,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said. “I’ve heard no one raise their hands and say this was a disaster.”
Fifty-two Texas counties — including Collin, Hood, Parker and Travis — have turned to this option, state records show.
This comes as officials across the state and country are working to make sure elections are safe and free from outside interference.
Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election has dominated congressional hearings, talk shows and Facebook posts on and off for nearly two years. More than a dozen Russians have been indicted on charges of interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Russians not only interfered in (the) 2016 election but there’s an active ongoing intelligence war against the United States right now,” Josh Berthume, managing director of Rogue Metrics, a political and digital risk consultancy, said during a recently political gathering in Fort Worth. “And it’s only going to get worse.”
Keeping votes safe
Whitley said the proposed plan to let local residents cast ballots at any polling place on Election Day would not put local votes in peril.
“This is not putting anything online,” he stressed. “I don’t think we are putting our system of votes (in the position) to potentially be hacked.”
And before Tarrant County moves forward with any plan — which would require buying equipment for which funding is already allocated — Garcia said he would put together a citizens advisory committee to weigh the pros and cons. And there would be public meetings.
If feedback is positive, another public comment period would be Sept. 4 with county commissioners and a formal vote could go before county officials on Sept. 18.
If county officials give the go ahead, the equipment would have to be bought before a formal application could be presented to the Secretary of State early next year.
“One of the biggest benefits a vote center offers is convenience,” Steve Leakey, president of the Voter Awareness Council in Montgomery County, has said. “On Election Day, you have to go to your precinct, which may have moved and you didn’t know it, or it may not be convenient to you.”
Commissioners did ask Tuesday about paper ballots, and if they would be eliminated on Election Day with this new approach to voting.
Garcia said there is a type of election technology he could look into buying that would leave a paper trail.
First voters would cast their ballots on a touch screen, then print it out on paper to review.
That ballot would then be scanned into a machine before it would be counted.
“In general, I’m supportive of the concept,” Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks said. “The devil, of course, is in the details.
“My overriding concern is that this (should) not have the effect of suppressing the vote anywhere in Tarrant County.”