Tarrant County will make it easier to vote, but here’s the key to a smooth transition

At a time when you can order almost any product in the world from your phone, somehow, voting hasn’t gotten much easier.

That’s why we were encouraged that Tarrant County officials voted Tuesday to spend $11 million on new voting technology that will enable voters to cast a ballot at any designated county site, not just their neighborhood polling place.

The switch to so-called voting centers won’t fix all the problems in our elections. But adding more convenience is a good step forward. We applaud Elections Administrator Heider Garcia for leading Tarrant County to this change.

But it’s a big switch for both elections workers and voters. Garcia’s staff needs to take several steps to ensure voters are ready.

For one thing, the county should do everything possible to get the new system in place by November, when Texans will vote on constitutional amendments and various local offices and issues. This is a low-turnout affair, ideal for working out the bugs.

That will decidedly not be the case when the next election day rolls around — the March primaries. Texas will attract national attention as one of the biggest prizes in the Democratic presidential contest, and turnout is certain to be robust.

The vendor’s ability to deliver thousands of machines in time will be the biggest factor in getting the system online by November. But Garcia should keep the pressure on the company, Hart InterCivic.

To be clear, voting centers won’t fix all the problems in our democracy. But they are unquestionably more convenient for voters, cheaper in the long-term for the county and reduce the need for provisional ballots cast by voters who show up at the wrong precinct. Recent research from two University of Houston political science professors indicates they can help increase turnout in elections that tend to draw less interest, like constitutional amendment votes, though the effect fades over time.

For Tarrant County officials, getting the transition right is crucial. Too many voters simply won’t hear about the change, and some will inevitably turn up at a precinct where they may have voted for years.

State law outlines steps the county must take to implement voting centers. Particular attention must be paid to making sure that the overall number of sites is adequate and spread throughout the county. It’s important for counties with large numbers of minority voters to consult with civil rights organizations to ensure their communities’ concerns are addressed.

A robust education campaign is a must, with extensive outreach to voters through media and mail.

Problems and missteps are inevitable, which is why it’s best to start this kind of change with a low-turnout election. County officials deserve credit for choosing this path. Now, they need to work hard to get it right for voters.

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