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At the Commissioners court meeting today, the court will hear Dr. Robert Stein of Rice University present his report on the use of Vote Center in the November, 2009 election. After Dr. Stein's presentation, the court will hold a required public hearing on using the Vote Center concept in the upcoming November gubernatorial election.
In 2006 and again in 2009, the Texas Secretary of State approved Collin County, along with Lubbock, Galveston and Erath counties, as a test site for the use of Vote Centers, or consolidated polling places.
The concept of Vote Centers involves reducing dramatically the number of election day polling places by eliminating precinct based polls and replacing them with larger Vote Centers where anyone in the county can vote. A similar concept has been in use for several years in early voting.
In an early voting polling place, anyone in the county can vote in any of the polling places. Citizens are no longer limited to voting in their neighborhood, but can vote near their school, office, stores or on their way to work.
It a popular idea, and the data shows the voters like the concept.
In 2006, the county elections department submitted a plan to the commissioners court, but withdrew it after the commissioners heard objections to the poorly designed plan from both political parties.
Collin County used Vote Centers for the first time in the November, 2009 constitutional amendment election. The County also contracted with Dr. Robert Stein of Rice University to perform some statistical analysis of the election and the effect of the Vote Centers.
Dr. Stein released his report in January. Stein compared statistics and exit poll data from Collin and Denton counties. Collin used the Vote Centers, and Denton did not.
Stein's report shows a lower Collin County turnout on election day compared to Denton County and Texas as a whole.
The data also showed that 8.4% of the Collin County voters waited in line for more than 10 minutes. In Denton County 5.2% waited for 10 minutes or more.
Several voting locations were used by large number of voters, while others were almost empty all day. In Collin County almost a third of the voters chose to vote in only 10% of the Vote Centers. This uneven distribution was, according to Stein, the likely cause of the additional waiting in line.
Since Collin County will be using substantially the same locations this year, it would be reasonable to predict that there will be lines of voters waiting at some of the more popular Vote Centers.
One issue that makes it difficult to use any analysis of the 2009 election is the great disparity expected in voter turnout between the 2009 Constitutional Election, and the 2010 Gubernatorial Election.
In 2009, less than 5% of the voters turned out to vote in 57 Vote Centers. This year, turnout should be closer to 25%-35% and they will vote in 70 Vote Centers.
The 70 proposed Vote Centers are a reduction from 129 precinct poling locations that would be expected if the Vote Centers are not approved.
After Dr. Stein's report, the county commissioners will hold a public hearing. It is expected that the Republican Party will support the 2010 plan, but that the Democratic Party will express some reservations.
In 2009, representatives of the Democratic Party, minority groups and disabled voter advocates who were on the county's Site Selection Committee all expressed some serious issues they believed could reduce voter turnout. Most then opposed going forward with the 2009 plan.
This year, the Democratic Party is expected to once again express real reservations of the wisdom of the plan. It is expected that their concerns will be similar to those in 2006 and in 2009 -
1. There are insufficient electronic poll books needed to check in voters. While this did not prove to be a huge problem in the low turnout 2009 election, the lack of poll books was a root cause of much of the lines seen in 2009 and it can be expected that the lines will grow exponentially this year.
Traditional vote centers offer multiple, as many as 10 or 20 electronic poll books so that voters can queue up in lots of shorter lines. Most Collin County Vote Centers will have only 2 poll books, thereby forcing voters into only 2 much longer lines.
Collin County has had real problems in the past with the electronic poll books and the VoteSafe software behind them. In 2008, Snafus with VoteSafe caused long lines, poll worker frustration and days of missed reporting during early voting. The lines were so long, and poll worker frustration so high that there were cases reported where election workers asked voters to 'come back on another day'.
2. Lack of parking. Almost every single Vote Center is located at a school or government facility. Election day is a normal work day and a school day. the parking lots will already be substantially full and it is feared that there is insufficient planning to allow parking for the anticipated 80,000 - 120,000 voters expected on election day. Dr. Stein's report lists most Vote Centers as having less than 5 available parking slots. Traditional vote centers avoid using schools, instead opting for large, recognizable buildings with plenty of parking.
3. Uneven distribution of Vote Centers:
- Allen has only 2 vote centers, or one for every 42,000 residents.
- Frisco has 6 vote centers, or one for every 17,800 residents.
- Plano has 16 vote centers, or one for every 16,500 residents.
- Murphy has one vote center for 13,700 residents.
- Wylie has 3 vote centers, one for every 13,000 residents.
- McKinney has 12 vote center, or one for every 10,600 residents.
- Farmersville has one vote center for 3,300 residents.
Long lines can be expected in Allen, Plano and Frisco. Some voters faced with no parking places and long lines will simply choose to go home and not vote.
Collin County will be using far more Vote Centers than is normally used in the Vote Center model. In Collin County, we will have 70 Vote Centers replacing 129 precinct polling places. In Larimer County, CO., they replaced 143 precinct polling places with only 22 'super precincts' or vote centers. Phoenix has replaced their 130 precinct polls with only 20 vote centers.
Collin County's use of a much larger number of 'super precincts' could help mitigate much of the issues that would wreak havoc (and have done so) in a more traditional Vote Center... that is IF the voters can find a parking place, and IF the VoteSafe software performs as promised.
The commissioners court will meet at the Jack Hatchell Administration Building, 2300 Bloomdale Rd. in McKinney. The meeting begins at 9:30 AM and public comments are welcome.
Proposed November General election poll locations, Collin County Elections, Aug. 2010
An Evaluation of Election Day Vote Centers In Collin County, Texas: 2009 Election, Stein and Vonnahme, January, 2010
November 3, 2009 Election Day Vote Centers open for business, CCO, Nov. 2, 2009
Collin to take part in vote center pilot despite concerns, CCO, Sept. 9, 2009
Does Collin County understand what a Vote Center is?, CCO, Aug. 10, 2009
Public Hearings on Countywide Election Day Polling Place Program, CCO, Aug. 3, 2009
Reports detail Collin County Early Voting problems, CCO, November 1, 2008
The 2009 Vote Center Plan submission to the Texas Secretary of State (MS Word doc)
Analysis of previous Collin County plan from 2006, Baumbach et al, July 2006
Collin County chosen to test polling place plan on Election Day, The Dallas Morning News, September 7, 2009
Vote centers "a total fiasco", The Denver Post, November 9, 2006
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