The House Elections Committee held its first interim hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Harris County Commissioners Courtroom in Houston. The committee met to hear invited and public testimony about the use of voting centers also known as countywide voting. Among those providing invited testimony were county clerks Dr. Diane Trautman of Harris, Joyce Hudman of Brazoria, and Wharton County Elections Administrator Cindy Richter.
Dr. Trautman testified she sought to improve access and convenience in Harris County and received approval from the Secretary of State (SOS) to use the May municipal election as a trial run for countywide voting centers. The only challenge experienced was the loss of cellular connectivity in one location, which affected the use of electronic poll books; however, the issue is being addressed in preparation for the November constitutional amendment election.
When asked by Chair Klick how her office was going to address the possibility of longer lines at the polls, Dr. Trautman responded that Harris County plans to purchase 30 additional voting machines, add six new early voting locations, extend early voting hours and include a public education campaign. She mentioned as county clerk, she has a declared disaster plan in place and a separate plan just for the elections division. She recommended the committee consider future legislation for all counties to develop such a plan in the event of an emergency.
Brazoria County Clerk Joyce Hudman provided the committee with a brief history of elections in her fast growing county. Since moving to voting centers in 2015, Brazoria County has seen fewer voters at incorrect precincts and reduced the number of provisional ballots. The county further streamlined voting by purchasing new voting equipment in 2017.
Cindy Richter, Wharton County Elections Administrator, has been conducting elections for the county since 2015. Ms. Richter noted the county has gone from 12 precinct polling locations to eight voting centers and also purchased new voting machines that produce a paper audit trail. These changes have improved access for voters in the county's agricultural areas.
Other invited testimony covered how to accommodate voters with disabilities and the effort to expand Harris county voting centers to all eligible voters while making locations of equitable distance. In addition, Keith Ingram, Elections Director, Office of the Secretary of State, provided a brief history of countywide voting centers with the first implementation taking place in 2005.
Sixty counties have successfully implemented countywide voting centers and, in November, nine additional counties will have voting centers for the first time. Overall, 73% of Texas voters will have access to voting centers for the upcoming November election.
The Elections committee plans to continue its work during the legislative interim and TAC staff will monitor all activity. You can view the Sept. 12 hearing here. For more information on elections, contact Nanette Forbes.