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I'm not sure they do.
The county wants to participate in a pilot program that would consolidate neighborhood precincts into fewer election day 'Vote Centers'. These Vote Centers would operate similar to the Early Voting polling places that voters are already used to. In a Vote Center, any county registered voter may vote in any Vote Center in the county.
Voters would no longer be required to cast their ballots in their neighborhood precinct polling places - in fact, their neighborhood polling places would no longer exist.
The concept of Vote Centers has been around for several years. Larimer County in Colorado has successfully used the Election Day Vote Center (EDVC) model for several years. In 2006 and in 2008, Lubbock County, here in Texas, also used EDVCs.
The data presented to the committee was encouraging. According to Dr. Stein, the use of EDVC's was well received by the voters and may have even enhanced the turnout of voters who do not normally vote in all elections.
But what exactly is a Vote Center? Is it just a typical neighborhood polling place where anyone in the county can vote?
Wikipedia defines them as,
According to Larimer County, Vote Centers must:
- have secure electronic connection (such as T1 lines) to the pollbook.
- one Vote Center for every 10,000 active registered voters
- The site must have the square footage necessary to accommodate voting equipment and to meet anticipated voter turnout.
- There must be adequate parking, preferably on-site with good lighting and some parking spaces that are close to the building so they can be reserved for voters with disabilities.
- Locations on bus routes and major thoroughfares are preferable, for easy voter access.
- Easily identifiable buildings within the community are preferable, because they are easier for voters to locate.
Larimer County's Vote Centers included Hotels, Large Churches, Government Buildings, Colleges and Malls.
In Lubbock County, their Site Selection Committee met for several months, only selecting sites after planning parking, floor space, accessibility and traffic routes.
Vote Center can enhance the voter's experience, but they can also go horribly wrong as is detailed in a 2006 article from the Denver Post:
Vote centers "a total fiasco"
New system to ease ballot-casting a frustrating exercise for many
By Monte Whaley and Joey Bunch / Denver Post Staff Writers
What these Colorado counties learned was that Vote Centers are not just the same old polling places, but with a new rule stating that anyone in the county can vote there.
Vote Centers are "Super Precincts". They are much larger than traditional polling places, they have secure data communications, they have 6-10 electronic poll books, they have adequate parking, access and floor space.
Collin County elections has proposed Vote Center locations that are, in the great majority of cases, the same locations that were used as neighborhood polling places. With one exception, no attempt has been made to locate Vote Centers where people work, drive and shop.
For many of the proposed locations, there has been little or no attempt to survey and document floor space, parking or voter travel patterns.
Many of these locations are cramped on a typical election day, but little thought has been given to securing commitments for larger spaces and dedicated voter parking. There is no time to do so.
While Lubbock County spent months selecting and planning its Vote Centers, Collin county believes it can do so in two weeks.
Because of the time crunch, no attempt has been made to predict the voter turnout at each of the proposed Vote Centers, and then plan for that turnout.
Data communications will be dependent on existing internet networks, wireless cards, and in a few places even dial-up modems. No stand alone secure network is planned.
Some members of Collin County's site Selection Committee (including this author) have insisted that because of the lack of planning it would be rash to use Vote Centers to reduce the traditional number of poll locations.
The county is only asking to use the Vote Centers for the Constitutional Amendment election in 2009. However, the work done for the 2009 election will likely be the template used by the county in the 2010 General Election.
The last Constitutional election was held in 2007. For that election, the county used about 50 election day polling places - and there were problems with so few locations.
I was the election judge at the Wylie High School. For much of the day, voters had to wait in line for up to an hour, voters were unable to find parking spaces and left, and in the evening the lines of waiting voters grew so that we still had voters in line after 9 PM - two hours after the polls closed.
Allen had it worse, they didn't finish voting until after 9:30 PM. (Those two locations, Allen Municipal Bldg and Wylie High School are on the list of proposed 2009 Vote Centers.)
Because of these past problems and current planning issues, several members of the Site Selection Committee believe that a minimum of 60 Vote Centers be established for the 2009 election. The committee added additional locations in Allen and in and near Wylie. Other locations were added in areas with large minority or senior citizen populations.
However, others believe that the committee should reduce the number of locations with a maximum not to exceed 51. County Judge Keith Self has put the issue on Monday morning's Commissioner's Court agenda.
The Commissioners could vote to allow the committee to proceed as it thinks best, to kill the whole plan or to try to require that the committee limit itself to choosing 51 locations.
Later on Monday night, the Site Selection committee is planned to hold its final public meeting to vote on the number and locations of the Vote Centers.
The Site Selection committee will meet at 7 PM Monday, August 10 at Collin College Preston Ridge Campus, Founders Hall, Shawnee Room F–148, 9700 Wade Blvd, Frisco, TX. The public is invited and public input is encouraged.
UPDATE 10:30 AM, August 10
The Commissioners Court just voted to require that the Site Selection Committee limit the number of polling places to 57.
UPDATE 12:00 AM, August 10
The Site Selection Committee, citing the impossibility of adequately evaluating poll sites in the two weeks permitted it, voted 5-3 to recommend all 63 locations as vote centers in the 209 Constitutional Amendments election. It is now up to the county commissioners to decide what they will do next, since they voted to require that the committee recommend no more than 57 locations.
How do you feel about 57 and where did they get that #?
To pay for Vote Centers, sacrifices are made: Which precincts will be eliminated? Who decides? The number of voting locations and voting machines are cut by as much as 66% or more. Neighborhood election day precincts are often eliminated.
Certain segments of the population have a bigger burden in trying to excercise their right to vote. Vote Centers or Super Precincts don't serve the voter's needs or the precise requirements for democratic elections -- transparency being one of them. Vote Centers remove places from the neighborhood locations where voters without the means can have easier access.
With Vote Centers, you will see as many as 10,000 votes concentrated at one location, making it easier to commit fraud on a large scale in one fell swoop. The smaller neighborhood polling places offer a buffer against election fraud by keeping the number of votes in one location down to an average of 3,000 ballots or fewer. Voting machine malfunction or a rogue election worker can affect far fewer votes in a neighborhood precinct than in a consolidated vote center.
Larimer County is an example of how vote centers can disenfranchise large numbers of people when just one thing goes wrong:
Rocky Mountain News: Elections Nov. 7,, 2006. Voters at many of the city’s new 55 voting centers have been encountering long lines, computer problems and an inadequate number of computers to check proof
If the goal is to improve access to voting, then the best solution is to offer a 2 week period of early voting, at satellite locations, which ceases the week-end before election day, and to continue with neighborhood polling places. Then voters who could not with stand the long lines and waiting at Vote Centers can instead head to their neighborhood polling places on election day.
This is exactly what North Carolina does and it provides the best of both worlds, without creating a barrier to voting for the elderly and poor, and without exposing extremely large numbers of votes to software malfunctions and fraud.
1. Will Vote Centers be on private property, and if so, a) how will voting machines be secured, and b) will electioneering be allowed?
2. How will the poor, elderly, or sick or those with transportation issues get to the vote centers? Do you know what a bus ride across town is like, since vote centers end up being across town. It can take a person hours to get across town and back, and then there's the wait in line.
I wouldn't expect these Vote Centers to be very busy during small elections, but in General Elections and especially Presidential (the one more voters pay attention to) alot can go wrong and the lines will be a mess.
Will your county provide some sort of transportation for voters that won't take hours out of their day?
Often it is the poor who can't miss any work time, they won't get reimbursed.
And when all of your neighborhood polling places are eliminated, who decides where the vote centers will be?
If the goal is to enfranchise the most voters in the fairest way possible, Vote Centers do not meet the goal.
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