Commissioners to revisit countywide vote centers

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

June 17, 2013 at 1:17 a.m.

Victoria County Commissioners have until July 24 to say "heads or tails" to an election concept that would let voters cast ballots at any precinct box.

While the concept could potentially increase voter turnout, Elections Administrator George Matthews is offering up the plan with a reduction in polling sites.

It's a change several commissioners previously objected to, but if the benefits of vote centers outweigh the negatives, this November, Victorians could see some changes.

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi said any changes have to be approved by the Department of Justice.

The pre-clearance requirement was put into place in 1965 to ensure that minorities got adequate representation. However, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether the requirement is a violation of the 10th Amendment and an over extension of federal authority.

Commissioner Clint Ives said he fears a reduction in polling sites would disenfranchise rural voters.

"The gamble is you're dealing with an election," he said. "The last thing you want to gamble with is confusion and voter turnout."

The elections office will host a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St., to discuss changing Election Day polling locations in Victoria County to countywide polling locations.

According to a 2013 report the secretary of state presented to the state Legislature, countywide polling places' effects on voter turnout are currently difficult to gauge.

However, observational evidence from the participating counties along with turnout percentages "suggest countywide election polling places offer a way to ensure that voters who plan to vote in the election have an increased opportunity to do so much as with early voting," the report states.

Matthews said he plans to explain his rationale of choosing which polling sites to keep open and which to close.

Currently, vote centers are not authorized for use in primary elections, Matthews said. Legislation in Austin did not pass this session to make it possible.

The use of vote centers will allow the county to open fewer polling locations for a specific election using no less than 65 percent of the total number of election precincts covered in an election, according to a news release from the elections office.

Victoria County will consider using vote centers for the uniform elections in May and November.

Pozzi said he supports anything that has a possibility of a larger voter turnout.

"There's no reason to have the kind of turnout that we, the state and nation continue to have," Pozzi said. "Anything we can do on a local basis to make it more convenient, I'm in favor of."

Although it is the commissioners court's decision, using vote centers would affect all the taxing entities and their elections.

Pozzi said the big issue comes down to decreasing polling boxes.

Vote centers "make sense, but when you have been voting at the same precinct, it takes getting used to," he said.

An Election Day Vote Center will allow voters to cast a ballot at any open polling place. Currently on Election Day, voters may vote only at their election precinct polling location.



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