For the better part of two hours May 22, Buda resident Betty Conley and her husband tried desperately to find a place to cast a ballot in that day’s primary runoff election.
The duo was part of a group of ten residents at the Huntington Estates senior living community that were ultimately unsuccessful in finding where to vote.
While the event didn’t alter Conley’s desire to be part of the democratic process, she believes more could be done to assist seniors who might have been in their situation.
“Just because we’re older, doesn’t mean we have to succumb to having to do it (vote) by mail,” Conley said. “We’re proud people and we’re still alive.”
Conley said the trouble began when her neighbors were turned away from Buda City Hall, which is where they had thought they needed to go vote. Conley and her husband went to give it a try and were turned away. They were then informed they had to go to Tom Green Elementary, which also didn’t allow them to participate.
The group then tried calling the county’s election office, which they said did not respond to them.
Conley and her husband went to McCormick Middle School, then returned to Buda City Hall before they eventually gave up. They did not discover until afterward that their polling place was at the Goforth Water Supply company in Niederwald.
Conley said all members who had trouble voting were registered and in the same precinct. Conley’s husband was “very upset,” as he felt they had been denied their “due process.”
“I was quite upset that we didn’t get to vote,” Conley said. “We were disgusted because we couldn’t get an answer anywhere.”
The day’s events left some members of the senior living facility discouraged about the process. Some people said “to heck with it,” Conley said.
Conley believes solutions could include moving polling places to senior living facilities, to improve accessibility.
“They might not even vote now because they are so discouraged,” Conley said. “It’s hard on seniors. For most of them, the drive is hard anyway.”
Jennifer Anderson, Hays County elections administrator, said she is exploring the possibility of senior living facilities as voting sites, while also reducing the number of school campus polling locations in the future. Anderson said the move would help address rising school safety concerns.
However, Anderson said one problem is that moving a polling site could impact many others who have grown used to a certain location. Some of the positives of moving voting sites to senior living facilities is good parking and accessibility to senior residents.
“But it’s not easy to pick up and move a polling place,” Anderson said. “For every two people who may appreciate the move, it could impact others.”
Anderson said the county posts election notices in area newspapers, which list polling places, and the locations are listed on the county’s website.
Anderson said because there are “a lot” of senior living communities in the county, she said it would be difficult to reach out to them indiivudally.
Instead, Anderson believes moving toward dedicated voting centers, which are used in Travis and Williamson counties, could cut down on voting site confusion.
Voting centers are locations where all residents, no matter their precinct, can cast a ballot.
However, Anderson said the county would have to apply with the state for a voting center, which can take up to six months. The earliest Anderson envisions applying would be in January or July 2019.
Anderson also eyes overhauling the county’s entire election equipment this fiscal year, prior to opening voting centers. The county’s current equipment is “obsolete” and is not sold on the market anymore.
What kind of equipment could be purchased, however, would be determined at a later date.
“Soon, we intend to have talks regarding voting centers,” Anderson said.