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Harris County Clerk pitches countywide voting centers

January 7, 2019

New Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman on Tuesday will propose to Commissioners Court a non-precinct based countywide polling system, where voters can cast ballots at the location most convenient to them.

“Currently, 52 counties in Texas operate Election Day Vote Centers. It is time for Harris County… to be forward thinking and explore the possibility of establishing a Countywide Polling Place Program,” Trautman said in a release issued Monday.

In this past November’s elections, residents could vote at any of 46 county locations during the two-week early voting period, but had to cast ballots at their assigned precincts on Election Day.

During her campaign, Trautman pitched voting centers as a way to increase turnout by 2 to 5 percent. She said voters are more likely to participate when they can cast ballots on Election Day near their work or school, which may be outside their precincts.

Former county clerk Stan Stanart, whom Trautman defeated, was open to moving to countywide polling places. He said in October that the option is only available because the county moved to electronic poll books on his watch. Without the modified iPads, which can communicate with each other so voters cannot visit multiple locations, each polling place would need a paper record of the county’s 2.3 million voters.

Harris and other Texas counties in 2020 must grapple with the consequences of the Legislature’s decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting, which increases the time needed to cast a ballot. Even though 76 percent of Harris County voters cast straight-ticket ballots in November, long lines dismayed voters during early voting and on Election Day.

zach.despart@chron.com

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