Over the last few years several states have already or are seriously considering implementing consolidated Vote Centers on Election Day - and now, after taking a pass on it in 2006, the idea has again come to Collin Co. In mid-July Collin Co. notified the Texas Secretary of State that the county wants to be selected to join Texas' ongoing Vote Center trial program. (also see previous post 'Consolidated Polling Centers Coming To Collin Co. Next Election Day?')
Late in the 2009 legislative session the Texas legislature passed HB719, which amends Section 43.007 of the Texas Election Code to require the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) to implement a program that allows Commissioner's Courts in selected counties to eliminate election precinct polling places and establish county-wide Vote Centers for certain elections.
These Election Day Vote Centers work almost exactly like Early Voting Vote Centers. During the early voting period for each election cycle, a number of polling places appear through out the county and any registered voter in the county can vote in any of those places throughout the early voting period.The change from precinct voting places to Vote Centers won't happen immediately or throughout the state. First, the SOS is going to expand the Vote Center pilot program by selecting a few more counties to join the two counties already in the pilot program.
HB 719 states that the SOS can only select three counties with a population more than 100,000 people and two with populations less than 100,000. Additionally, those counties who want to be added to the trial program must also have converted to electronic voting and have electronic poll book systems networked via the Internet to qualify voters at the Vote Centers.Bottom line, by August 28th the SOS will select two additional larger counties and one smaller county to expand the experimental Vote Center trial program.Lubbock will be one of the three larger population counties and Erath County will be one of smaller population counties in the program, as both counties have already participated in the initial pilot project testing the concept of consolidating polling locations into vote centers.Once in the Vote Center program HB 719 allows counties to incremental decrease in the total number polling places by up to 35 percent of the polling places in the first year and up to 50 percent of the polling places in the second year of the plan.
In mid-July the Collin County Elections Administrator applied to be one of those larger counties selected by the SOS to join the program. The Elections Administrator notified the SOS that Collin County intends to submit a plan, by the August 15th application deadline date, to implement countywide Election Day Vote Centers this coming November. (see SOS scheduled and plan requirements at end of this blog post)
Erath and Brewster counties in the smaller county category and Collin, Galveston, Grayson, Lubbock and Midland in the larger county category have applied to the SOS to join the program. All of the counties applying to join the program must submit their complete vote center plan to the SOS no later than August 15th to be considered during the selection process. A maximum of five counties total will be selected to participate in the expanded trial Vote Center program, no matter how many counties apply. (Galveston County is likely to be one of the larger counties selected by the SOS, because so many of their regular precinct polling locations were wiped out by Hurricane Ike. Galveston County would seem to have a very practical need to utilize Vote Centers in the coming election.)After the Collin County Commissioners Court held a brief public hearing on July 20, 2009 to take public comment on the Elections Administrator's Vote Center proposal, the Commissioners authorized the Administrator to proceed with the Vote Center planning process.
The SOS will, by August 28th, select the two additional larger counties and one smaller county to join the Vote Center Program. The selected counties must then forward their Vote Center plans to the U.S. Dept. of Justice for pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 for their approval to proceed with the program expansion.
Due to the concern expressed by the public during the public hearing and a request that community input be allowed during the planning process from Shawn Stevens, the newly elected Chairperson of the Democratic Party of Collin County, the Commissioners instructed the County Elections Administrator to form a community planning committee.Under the provisions of a Voting Center program there are many fewer than usual Election Day polling places, but each Election Day Vote Center acts like the Early Voting Vote Center, now familiar to many Collin County voters, where any county resident can vote at any Vote Center polling place.
The planning committee will participate in the planning process to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers for the November 3, 2009 election. The eight person Community Planning Committee formed by the Elections Administrator includes the following voting members:
The first community planning committee meeting was held on Monday July 27, 2009. The next planning meeting is scheduled Monday, August 3, 2009, at 7:00 pm in the Commissioner’s Courtroom in the Jack Hatchell Administration Building in McKinney.
- The GOP County Chair - Fred Moses
- The Democratic County Chair - Shawn Stevens
- The Libertarian Party Chair -
- Early Voting Ballot Board Judge - Neal Katz
- Central Count Station Alt. Judge - Bill Baumbach
Advocacy, Inc. representative - Staff Attorney Dustin Rynders of Austin
- LULAC Representative - Rick Gonzalez
- NAACP Representative -The following meeting will be on Thursday August 6, 2009 - time and place TBD.
Though the efforts of Shawn Stevens, the new chairperson of the Democratic Party of Collin County, Dr. Robert M. Stein of Rice University in Houston will attend the August 6th meeting to speak to the planning committee.
- Dr. Stein is an expert on urban politics and public policy and teaches political science at Rice University. Dr. Stein has been researching how Voting Centers affect overall voter turnout behaviors and has recently addressed conferences and co-authored papers on this topic. (See pdf-Engaging the Unengaged Voter - Vote Centers and voter turnout | List of Dr. Stein's publications)
Two key arguments are made in support of Vote Centers:
|Pros and Cons|
Planning & Administration
- First, historically, voters are assigned to vote at precinct polling places according to their residence address on Election Day. This is often inconvenient for voters, especially those who work some distance way from where they live, to return to their home precinct on Election Day. Holding elections at countywide polling locations would not only ease the burden on voters.
It is argued that Vote Centers will increase turnout by freeing voters to cast their ballots at a number of locations convenient to where they work and shop instead of limiting them to one precinct polling place in their neighborhoods.
- Second, there are assertions that Vote Centers will reduce the governmental costs of administering elections because fewer poll workers will be required to staff Vote Centers than the more numerous neighborhood-polling places.
To "qualify" voters entering the Vote Center election clerks used an electronic poll book application running on laptop computers which were linked, via the Internet, to a central election office computer poll book database of all registered county voters.
As Vote Center election clerks verified each voter as "qualified to vote," the electronic poll book software updated that person's central poll book database record to show that person had voted in the election. This electronic poll book voter qualification and check-in process prevents voters from casting ballots at multiple Vote Center locations.
The electronic poll book software also specified what "ballot style" to give to each voter. Since Larimer County voters could go to any of the county's 22 Vote Center locations each voter had to receive a ballot that included the correct list of candidates for their particular residential location.
For example, in the November 2008 election Collin County, Texas had over fifty unique ballot styles to cover the various combination of U.S. Congressional Districts, State House and Senate Districts, Judicial Districts, County Commissioner Districts, and so forth for each resident of the county.Because Larimer County officials properly planned their Election Day Vote Center strategy they were able to report that their 2003 experimentation with Vote Centers yielded an increase in voter turnout, a reduction in the number of poll workers needed to manage the election and satisfied voters:
The centers have been a huge success, said Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle. Voters can cast ballots at any Vote Center in the county, as long as they can prove they are a registered voter. Doyle said each center has up to eight [electronic poll book voter qualification] registration computers when the doors open and that more are immediately brought in if there is a crush of voters [at a particular Vote Center location.] "We try and move people through like a checkout line at Albertsons," Doyle said.Accessible voting places with ample parking and sufficient poll workers quickly check-in and help voters had a significant and positive effect on voter’s rating Larimer County's Vote Center experiment.
The 2003 Larimer County Vote Center pilot project was such a success that Colorado expanded the Vote Center program statewide for the 2006 general election. Unfortunately, many Colorado counties did not plan their 2006 Election Day Vote Center strategy as well as Larimer County planned for the 2003 election:
The Denver Post newspaper carried the headline, Vote Centers "A Total Fiasco": Vote Centers were designed to make casting ballots easier and more convenient, but on Tuesday, they produced jangled nerves, technological gaffes and long lines across Colorado.Clearly, studied advanced planning to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers has tremendous impact on how well they serve voters on Election Day. However, little academic research has been conducted to explore the full effects of Vote Centers on overall voter turnout or voter turnout from specific segments of the electorate.
. . .From urban Denver to suburban Douglas County to rural Routt County, there were long lines at Vote Centers. . . .Douglas County voters may have been hit the hardest, as some lined up more than four hours for a chance to cast a ballot.
. . .Denver voters faced two to three hour waits at the city's 55 Vote Centers. . . .Among the problems [causing the delays] were having only four or five [electronic poll book check-in] computers at a Vote Center to check-in hundreds of voters.
Rocky Mountain News carried a headline Ballot Bedlam: Voters at many of the city’s new 55 voting centers have been encountering long lines, computer problems and an inadequate number of computers to check proof of voter registration. . . .there were not enough workers to check identification cards.
. . .Denver election officials rebooted the whole computer system shortly after 1 p.m. in hopes of keeping the servers from crashing throughout the afternoon.
. . .At about 2 p.m., election officials sent 30 more [electronic poll book check-in] laptop computers to some of the most heavily used polling centers.
. . .By 3 p.m., election officials had sworn in 85 to 100 new election worhers; some city employees, others, private citizens. Those with election experience were working polling machines. Those who had no experience were asked to greet voters and hand out sample ballots.
The few studies so far conducted indicate that accessibility to Vote Centers does have an impact on turnout among various segments of the population. Vote Center utilization has a modest positive impact on turnout among younger voters, infrequent voters and those who have not yet developed the voting habit. There are also some indications that Vote Centers, at least initially, may have a negative impact on turnout among older voters, voters who have historically strong voting habits of always returning to the same polling location, minority voters and lower income voters. As yet the full extent and causes for these voter turnout observations are not understood.
Because the Collin County Elections Administrator waited until mid-July to announce an intention to implement Vote Centers for the election this November, many people associated with the Democratic Party of Collin County are concerned there is not enough time to prepare a studied plan to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers by November 3rd. Neither is there enough time to adequately inform voters that they must go someplace different than their usual home precinct polling place to vote on November 3rd.
The Collin County Elections Administrator states her believe that the 2009 November general election presents a good opportunity to test Vote Centers because the election will be a very low turnout election with only Texas Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. That may or may not be the case depending on exactly when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns her senate seat this fall, to focus on her gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Perry for the March 2010 primary election, and what Gov. Perry decides to do in calling either a special or emergency election to fill the senate seat.
Gov. Perry has said he might expedite the date of the special election to replace Sen. Hutchison as soon as possible after her senate resignation because too many important things are going on in Washington, D.C. [StarTelegram blog, July 29]
- Sen. Hutchison Says Will Resign Senate Seat In Oct or Nov.
- Consolidated Polling Centers Coming To Collin Co.
- Countywide polling places back for consideration.
- Public hearing scheduled for Countwide Vote Center plan
- Analysis of Consolidated Voting Precincts
- The Debate over Polling Places
- Election Day Vote Centers and Voter Turnout pdf
- Polling Places and Vote Centers pdf (eac.gov)
- A Study of Vote Centers pdf (State of Indiana VC Study)
- Vote Centers History (larimer.co.us/elections)
- The effects of Election Day vote centers on voter experiences pdf
- Lubbock County Steps To Develop Vote Centers Slide Presentation pdf
- Texas Politics - Voting, Campaigns and Elections
- Location, Knowledge and Time Pressures in the Spatial Structure of
Convenience Voting pdf
|Proposed SOS schedule for implementing HB 719 for November 3, 2009 election: |
|The written implementation plan submitted to the SOS by August 15th must include how the county will comply with the following requirements: |