PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

July 24, 2013

County looking into easing voter restrictions

BEAUMONT — If the response to a hearing held to gauge public interest is a reliable indicator, Jefferson County’s implementation of a countywide polling place program will be a great success.

“I can truly tell you that I don’t think the problem is voter apathy,” said Beverly Hatcher, a Beaumont resident and self-proclaimed “Election Day buff,” who spoke in favor of the program at a public hearing held at Tuesday’s meeting of the Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court. “A normal excuse is that people expect the early voting locations to be a staple of where to vote.”

Hatcher perennially volunteers at the Port Arthur Public Library, an early voting location for Jefferson County. Often, she said, voters show up to the library on Election Day, and become perplexed and angry when told they can’t vote there.

“We know once they leave, they’re going home,” Hatcher said. “So we lose those votes.”

The countywide polling program would enable citizens to vote anywhere in Jefferson County, and not specifically at their precincts, said county clerk Carolyn Guidry. The courthouse will submit an application to the Secretary of State tomorrow, who will then decide if Jefferson County is one of six Texas counties with a population of at least 100,000 citizens that may implement the program. The Secretary has until early voting begins to notify the county.

“Last year, there were 96 provisional ballots that didn’t count because they voted at the wrong precinct,” Guidry said. “With this program, that will be 96 more votes.”

Staff and resources will remain on hand should the need arise, County Judge Jeff Branick said, and there will be safeguards in place to derail multiple voters. Guidry and chief deputy Theresa Goodness will monitor voting with EA tablets, a real-time Web database that syncs automatically each time someone votes.

If Jefferson County is approved, the polling place program will not be in place during primary elections, when patrons still must vote at their designated precinct location. And it is only applicable in 2013 — the county must re-apply yearly.

But it’s a start, said Michael Therrien, of Fannett.

“It breaks my heart to see voter restriction,” Therrien said. “With this, the confusion will be lifted. It’s democracy, and I applaud it.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA

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