County considers new voting system

County officials are looking to kickstart community dialogue on the implementation of the Countywide Polling Place Program (CWPP) on Election Day, seeking feedback from targeted areas.

At a March 27 open house, elections officials presented the prospect of CWPP, an effort that would allow citizens to cast their ballot at any polling location, regardless of precinct, on Election Day. Currently, voters must cast a ballot at their designated precinct location on Election Day.

Texas State University students, elections officials and elected representatives weighed in during the meeting on which precincts should host the voting centers.

Pending approval from the state, Hays County could join the list of dozens of Texas counties that have implemented countywide voting.

County officials are looking to appoint a polling place committee that will be tasked with identifying the best locations for these centers. During the November 2018 election, there were approximately 35 precincts on Election Day.

“That will be the charge of the polling place committee,” said Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson. “If it’s less, it will be minimal, and I don’t think you’ll see less on the east side of I-35.”

Anderson said Hays County Commissioners will host a public forum April 23 for citizen input on polling places the county should consider for countywide voting.

Anderson said the county is planning to implement countywide voting by the November 2019 elections, which would serve as a “test run” in anticipation for the 2020 election cycle. 

Catherine Wicker, Precinct 334 chairperson, which includes a majority of Texas State University and surrounding student apartments, said she wants to see more engagement from the student population.

The record-breaking turnout at the university during the 2018 midterm elections resulted in a lack of voting machines for the student population. Five months later, the problem during the midterms still gives local officials heartburn.

“We could send flyers, create them ourselves, and distribute them to the population once the summer ends,” Wicker said. “Once we establish these voting locations, we’ll work with (the elections office) to make that work.”

The nonstudent population at the meeting said they would like to see more polling locations on the east sides of Kyle, Buda and San Marcos to aid those residents. 

San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson suggested more candidate outreach for those seeking office. Countywide vote centers would save candidates and election officials time from having to direct voters to the correct polling location on election day, which has proven to be challenging for those seeking office in the past.

“The April 23 meeting is a requirement in our application packet,” Anderson said. “Audio from that meeting will be sent to the state with our packet for approval, so it’s important that people come out and let us know how we can make this system successful.”

Meanwhile, Hays County Commissioners are looking to upgrade their arsenal of voting machines to a potential “hybrid system.” This would allow voters to receive some sort of receipt or physical conformation after voting.

However, before the county can invest millions in new machines, state law requires voting machines to be approved by the state.

Pulling the trigger on new machines could be costly if not given state approval. Additionally, county officials said there is proposed legislation at the capitol that could dictate which machines would be allowed on Election Day. 

“That will be the duty of the county, but I can’t talk specifically about hybrid systems,” Anderson said, citing changes that could be made at the legislature. “But it seems the paper receipt is popular, and we could be leaning in that direction.”

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