Brazoria County has taken the first step in changing the elections law so that voters would be able to vote at any polling precinct within the county on the day of election. That policy is better known as “Vote Centers” or “Super Precincts.” Currently voters enjoy that option in the early voting process but on Election Day itself the law requires voters cast their ballot only at their precinct location. The county has filed the required notices hoping to be able to enact the new policy for the city and school elections on May 9, 2015 with these Vote Centers.
Prior to being accepted into the Vote Center Program public hearings must be made available throughout the county to solicit input from the voting public. At the hearings information will be presented on how the Vote Centers work and how it will change the way Brazoria County votes. The hearings will be recorded and sent to the Texas Secretary of State to be used in the county approval system. The county requests input from council members, board directors, mayors, school superintendents, citizens from minority and disability groups, and just average citizens. A list of the dates, times, and locations of the public hearings is shown at the end of the story.
The Voter Center idea was begun in 2006 with several iterations of the idea being tested in a few sample counties in subsequent elections. In a report filed by the Secretary of State, it was suggested to require the first election at which countywide polling places are used be an election other than the November general election for state and county officers. This would allow county election officials and voters to become familiar with the concept and in effect run a smaller scale election with countywide election day polling places before deciding whether the county should apply to use the countywide polling places in a November General Election.
The report went on to say that effects on voter turnout in countywide polling were difficult to gauge based on the small sample size of the trial counties. Anecdotal evidence from the participating counties along with the turnout percentages did suggest countywide polling locations offer a way to ensure that voters have an increased opportunity to vote, just as with the early voting process.
Challenges noted in the report appear to predominate in larger counties with higher turnouts. If the countywide polling place does not have sufficient equipment and personnel, delays can occur. The bottlenecks have seemed to occur due either to insufficient equipment to process the voters or backups for when those devices fail. With a reduced number of polling places one of the benefits of the Voter Center method, voting machines can be congregated at a countywide polling place so that an adequate number of voting systems should be available. Brazoria County officials appear confident that they have sufficient equipment and personnel to provide the Voter Center method.
Dates, times, and locations of public hearings follows:
– Hearing No. 1: Tuesday, January 13, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. at the Pearland City Hall, 3519 Liberty Dr., Pearland, Texas
– Hearing No. 2: Wednesday, January 14, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. in the Commissioner’s Courtroom in the Brazoria County Courthouse located at 111 East Locust, First Floor, Angleton, Texas
– Hearing No. 3: Thursday, January 15, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. at the West Columbia City Council Chambers, 514 E. Brazos Ave. West Columbia, Texas
– Hearing No. 4: Tuesday, January 20, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. at the Alvin City Council Chambers, 216 W. Sealy St., Alvin, Texas
– Hearing No. 5: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. at the Lake Jackson Civic Center, 333 Highway 332 East, Lake Jackson, Texas