Voting in Dallas County is going to be a lot easier this November.
Tuesday afternoon, the Commissioners Court voted to switch the county from its present Election Day system, which requires voters to show up to their home precincts to cast ballots, to one that allows Dallas County residents to vote at any polling place in the county.
Commissioners approved the move, which will require the county to jump through several administrative hoops, by a 4-1 vote. J.J. Koch, Dallas' lone Republican county official, voted against the plan, which county staff believe will streamline the voting process, potentially increase voter turnout and decrease the number of voters who end up casting provisional ballots that don't count when they show up to the wrong precinct polling place.
"It is time to come into the 21st century and have an election system that actually works," Commissioner Elba Garcia said. "The main point about vote centers is that we have people, over 3,000 people, that wanted to vote during the last election and they were not able to do it. Voting centers bring that to the table. It's time to make sure that anyone who wants to vote is able to go and vote in the right place without any problems."
Elizabeth Walley, vice president of outreach for the Dallas County League of Women Voters, praised the changes for giving Dallas County residents with long commutes a better chance to cast a vote on Election Day.
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"Why should a voter who works downtown have to travel to, for example, Farmers Branch, Carrollton or Mesquite to vote when they could so easily vote in the area where they work?" Walley said. "Uncounted voter hours are wasted because voters don't know where their polling place is. A few years ago, we conducted an exit poll in conjunction with the statistics department at SMU. It was on Election Day [in November 2014] ... We found that 9 percent of the voters on that day had gone to the wrong polling place and were traveling around trying to find the right one."
To use voting centers on Election Day, counties must prove to the Texas Secretary of State's Office that they have a computerized voter registration list that allows for real-time checks by poll workers to prevent double voting, as well as uniform voting equipment throughout the county for both early and Election Day voting.
Until the change takes effect — the county is targeting November's constitutional amendment election — Dallas County elections will continue to use electronic ballots for early voting and paper ballots on Election Day voting. Beginning in November, should all go according to plan, all voters will vote electronic with ballots backed up with paper printouts. The county is negotiating with the voting equipment company that submitted the winning bid for the county's new system.
If the November election goes off without any major problems, the county can apply to the state to use voting centers for all of the city, state and federal elections it administers.