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State may consider new voting system
Dave McNeely
MRT Wire Services

The people who run elections in Texas in big counties have liked early voting enough that they'd like to try the system on election day. That's because the early voting system allows voters to vote at a number of places within their county other than their home precinct.

The fact of computers and a database allows the ballot for a particular precinct to be pulled up, regardless of where the people vote. It also saves money.

"I think there are quite a few counties that are interested in that," said Ann McGeehan, director of the Elections Division for the Texas Secretary of State.

The Texas Conference of Urban Counties has developed House Bill 758, that would allow the Secretary of State to designate a certain number of counties with the necessary computerized equipment and voting machines to use the same process on election day.

Somewhere around a dozen counties are interested, including Denton, Montgomery, Travis, Lubbock and others.

Carried by House Elections Committee Chair Mary Denny, R-Denton, the bill would allow voters in counties approved by the Texas Secretary of State's office, after a public hearing in their county commissioners court, to cast their ballots some place other than their own precinct on election day, just as in early voting, and allow them to vote at whatever polling place in the county is most convenient.

"We think it's probably the future of voting in Texas, because voting has become much more complex and much more expensive," said Donald Lee, executive director of the more than three dozen counties that make up the urban counties group.

The advantage for the public, other than the ability to vote anywhere within the county, is it will save money, Lee said. Because the Helping America Vote Act requires that people with disabilities have the equipment to be able to vote in any precinct, the ability to combine some precincts into "super-sites" will allow there to be fewer of the machines necessary to accommodate those with special needs and will allow fewer, better-trained election personnel.

On the other hand, condensing, say, Harris County (Houston) precincts from close to 1,000 down to a few hundred would take a considerable effort to make sure voters understand the new system, and considerable care to make sure there aren't jam-ups on voting day.

"You don't want to create too few of these super-precincts so you don't create long lines," McGeehan said.

Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County Clerk (Austin), while welcoming the prospect of the new system, says it would take a lot of instruction to get voters to understand it.

"We've got some education to do," DeBeauvoir said. "'No you can't go down the street to the Methodist church where you've been voting for 30 years. You go to a new place.'"

She also warns that if the super-sites are in addition to existing precincts, there could be a potential for election fraud. Voters could vote in their home precinct, and if they are "nefarious," then go to a super-site and say they'd lost their voter certificate, and vote again.

At the same time, there would be a phase-in, if officials try to combine existing polling places and the new super-sites. That could be a real headache.

"I don't think I can vouch for computer security if you have both," DeBeauvoir said.

That said, get ready for this. The bill has passed the House, and is pending in the Senate State Affairs Committee. It may well be the future of Texas voting.

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