The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Come November, Jefferson County residents may be able to elect the latest batch of officials from any polling location in the county, rather than their specific precinct.
The Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court will conduct a public hearing at a 1:30 meeting on Tuesday, July 23, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1149 Pearl Street, Beaumont, to solicit comments from the public on a proposed plan to implement a countywide polling place program for the Nov. 5 joint election.
“What we are proposing is that we not eliminate any of our normal election day polling locations — we just create them as vote centers,” said Theresa Goodness, chief deputy county clerk. “Right now, you have to vote at your precinct on Election Day, so if a voter lives in Port Arthur and works in Beaumont, they would have to drive home. This would allow any voter that's registered in the county to vote at any one of the Election Day polling locations.”
This plan would have to be approved by Texas Secretary of State John Steen, Goodness said. However, before Jefferson County is even able to apply, there are other changes to be made — among them, real-time poll books and this public hearing.
“With real-time poll books, if any voters voted at a vote center and then tried to go to another vote center, they'd immediately know that that person has already voted,” Goodness said. “Then we have to have the public hearing, the commissioners have to approve the application and we have to submit that and a transcript of the public hearing to the Secretary of State.”
Steen is only able to approve six counties with a population of at least 100,000 residents, Goodness said. However, she hopes Jefferson County will be among those six, as it would be a good service to the voters.
Goodness said other counties that have implemented central polling locations, such as Travis County, have enjoyed a higher voter turnout because of it. She added that this new process would eliminate confusion among the voters.
“Early voting enjoys a lot of visibility,” Goodness said. “Voters don't always know where their polling place is on Election Day, because we're such a mobile society that people tend to move a lot. Those voters tend to show up at an early voting location on Election Day and have to be directed to the right location.”
That doesn’t mean that this change won’t also be an adjustment for citizens of Jefferson County. But Goodness said the county plans to ease voters into it.
“We take any kind of changes slowly,” Goodness said. “We’ll implement it in such a way that we get the word out to all of our voters, and we won't try to reduce the number of polling locations until everybody gets used to the idea.”