Musings of an Old Geezer
My wife, Cathy, and I attended the Vote Center Town Hall sponsored by our new county commissioner, Devan Allen, at the Arlington Sub-Courthouse yesterday evening (April 18,2019). Most of the attendees appeared to be people who serve as poll workers during elections, but there were a few of us ordinary voters who wandered in.
What Vote Centers Are
The concept of vote centers is to allow any voter to vote at any polling place within the county on election day, just as they can do now at early voting locations. As it is currently, if one votes on election day, he must vote at the polling place that serves his local precinct. When we go to vote, the first thing we encounter is someone who suspects us of being at the wrong location. It irritates me, because I know I am at the right place, but it is worse for people who are, in fact, not entitled to vote at that location, and must therefore go back to their vehicles and go somewhere else in order to cast a vote. Some probably don’t have time for that, and don’t bother to vote at all.
Benefits of Vote Centers
Having vote centers in Tarrant County would allow the county to reduce the number of polling locations on election day, perhaps by as much as half, and simplify the effort to locate acceptable locations and set them up. It would also reduce the number of people needed to work at the the polling places on election day, and it would allow voters to choose a time and place to vote which is most convenient to them.
When I saw the flyer for the town meeting, I became concerned that they might be taking away my right to use a paper ballot. Despite, or perhaps because of, spending most of my life using and programming computers, I don’t trust the voting machines currently used for early voting, because I see no way to assure that they record my vote correctly, and have no paper trail with which to do a recount. I have a preference for voting on election day, easy for me since I am retired, but more important to me because I can use a paper ballot.
Elections Administrator Heider Garcia, who was the main speaker at the town meeting, erased my concerns early on by describing new voting equipment which would be acquired if the county decides to implement voting centers.
How to Vote at a Vote Center
The process for voting, both early and on election day, will be identical.
1. The voter identifies himself and is given a code for his particular ballot, depending on his address. His record is marked in a county-wide database as having voted so that he cannot vote again in that election. The code identifies only the particular ballot needed, which depends on the voter’s address. All voters from a given area receive the same code.
2. The voter goes to a machine which uses the code to display the appropriate ballot, and he marks the ballot electronically.
3. When done, the machine prints a summary of how the person voted and gives it to the voter.
4. The voter reviews the summary to be sure it is what he intended
5. If the summary is correct, the voter feeds it into a scanner which reads the summary, records the votes, and stores it, just as the scanners currently used for paper ballots do. The summary has no information about the voter, and the scanner has no connection to the voting machine.
If a voter discovers a mistake in the ballot summary, he can repeat the process at step 2 above until he gets it right.
After Mr. Garcia’s presentation, there were many questions from the audience. Some wanted assurance about the secrecy of the ballot, and others were about details of implementation. HANA board member Grace Darling, well-known bilingual poll worker, probably asked the most questions, but she was sitting too far away for me to hear most of them. Mr. Garcia repeated one, however, which was, “If this is such a good idea, why hasn’t it been done sooner?”. The reply was basically availability of money and technology. George Green, whom we usually see when we vote, wondered whether there would be continuous voting with no gap between early voting and election day. I did not understand the answer, but it seemed to depend on Texas law and the legislature, which is still in session.
The scheme looks good to me, and I hope the county will implement it.