It's a familiar sight, and a sad one, for anyone who's spent enough time at a Dallas County polling place on Election Day: Some poor sap, armed with his best intentions but the wrong address on his voter registration card, gets pulled off to the side as poll workers desperately try to figure out where he should be voting. Sometimes, things get straightened out, and it turns out John Q. Voter was in the right place after all. But sometimes it doesn't. He gets sent out the door, hopefully to the right precinct, or asked to cast a provisional ballot that likely won't count because it was voted in the wrong precinct.
Starting in November, problems like Mr. Voter's, at least in Dallas County, will be a thing of the past. Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Secretary of State's Office officially gave the county permission to participate in the countywide voting program the state allows its most populous counties to opt into. That means that whenever you vote, whether it's early or on Election Day, you can vote at whatever polling place you choose, as long as you're both registered to vote in Dallas County and physically in Dallas County.
County commissioners voted to ask the state to get in on the program this spring, after county staff said participation would streamline the voting process, potentially increase voter turnout and decrease the number of voters who cast provisional ballots.
"It is time to come into the 21st century and have an election system that actually works," Commissioner Elba Garcia said in March. "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."
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Countywide voting will allow workers with long commutes to better integrate voting into their workday, said Elizabeth Walley, vice president of outreach for the Dallas County League of Women Voters.
"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 asked commissioners before they voted 4-1 in support of the project. "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% of the voters on that day had gone to the wrong polling place and were traveling around trying to find the right one."
In order to participate in countywide voting this November, Dallas County had to upgrade its voter check-in system, something you may have noticed if you're one of the literally hundreds of people who voted in May or June's municipal elections. Those looking to cast ballots now check in on a cloud-connected tablet that has service from two carriers, in case one is on the fritz.
November's state constitutional amendment election is essentially a dry run. If everything comes off without a hitch, and Dallas County sends a successful report to the state, the county will be able to offer countywide polling places during all elections moving forward.