Tarrant County, Texas, Floats Idea of Open Voting Locations

Under a proposal by Election Administrator Heider Garcia, voters in the county could head to any polling place to cast their ballots. While less restrictive, some worry changes to the traditional process could be confusing.

by Anna M. Tinsley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram / April 16, 2019
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(TNS) — A plan some say could make voting easier on Election Day is on the drawing board in Tarrant County.

Elections Administrator Heider Garcia plans to talk about voting centers in the coming weeks. The centers would let voters cast ballots at any polling place in the county as soon as the November election.

Voters already may vote at their choice of polling sites during early voting. This would allow the same on Election Day.

“It makes it easy for people,” Garcia said. “You can vote anywhere, just like in early voting.”

Garcia plans to detail the possibility of switching to vote centers during a series of town hall meetings that run from April 17-30.

This approach, which could still include a paper trail for voters who want one, is geared to save money, boost voter turnout and make voting easier by not locking voters in to only one polling place, he said.

Possible drawbacks include confusion, people heading to their once-traditional voting sites that could be closed and a change in the overall voting experience, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, has filed a bill to prevent vote centers in counties with a population of larger than 400,000. Tarrant County has a population of more than 2 million.

“In the upcoming 2020 election, you’re going to have voters using new equipment,” she said. “It will take them longer to cast their ballots. Also, we are losing straight ticket voting, so in bigger counties with longer ballots, it will take voters longer to vote.”

Klick said her proposal, House Bill 4048, would grandfather in any counties that already have converted to voting centers. The measure is scheduled for a hearing before the House Elections Committee Monday.

Texas lawmakers have until the end of their legislative session, May 27, to pass laws.

Voting centers

More than 50 other Texas counties — including Collin, Hood, Parker and Travis — have turned to this option.

And even more counties, such as Harris County, are applying to do it.

A proposal to switch to vote centers would have to be approved by Tarrant County officials and the state of Texas before it could go into effect.

It would go hand-in-hand with a plan for new voting equipment that already is underway, Garcia said.

County commissioners last year said they wanted to make sure vote centers would not eliminate paper trails on Election Day. Garcia said he’s looking at technology that would let people cast ballots on a touch screen then print them out on paper to review before casting their ballots.

Typically, there are around 360 polling sites on Election Day.

Switching to vote centers and eliminating some voting sites that are close to each other could drop that number to 280 to 300 sites, Garcia said.

A citizens advisory committee has been studying the issue and reviewing plans since last year.

Town Halls

Garcia plans to detail how voting centers would work in Tarrant County during five upcoming public meetings:

  • 6 p.m. April 17, Northeast Courthouse, 645 Grapevine Highway, Hurst.
  • 6 p.m. April 18, Arlington Sub-Courthouse, 700 E. Abram St., Arlington
  • 5:30 p.m. April 23, Lake Worth Activity Center, 7005 Charbonneau Road
  • 6 p.m. April 29, Resource Connection, Magnolia Room, 2300 Circle Drive, Fort Worth
  • 6 p.m. April 30, Vernon Newsom Stadium, community room, 3700 E. Broad St., Mansfield

“I will tell people this is what vote centers are, this is how they work, get feedback and see what people think,” he said. “If everything lines up and is approved, we are hoping we could do this in November.”

©2019 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.