In November 2009, Galveston County attempted to hold a countywide vote center election and was unsuccessful for two reasons: A couple of its polling places weren’t ADA compliant (disabled voters had difficulty accessing polling places), and it took too long for the voter sign-in data to propagate to all the other vote centers in the county.

Galveston County tried again in November 2011 and was fully successful. It was approved by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to continue using countywide vote centers in future elections. In both instances, the county did its trial runs during an election where all voters registered in the county were able to vote—both were constitutional amendment general elections.

Fast forward to Harris County’s first attempt this May to use countywide vote centers on Election Day. They did so in a local election environment where only a third of the county’s 2.2 million voters were eligible to vote. It wasn’t a true test of using vote centers countywide because about 1.5 million voters were not included.

Additionally, only 150 polling places were used, not the 750 locations Harris normally uses. Texas Election Code says jurisdictions using vote centers may reduce the number of Election Day polling places to 60 percent of those used in a normal election. In order to adequately test Harris County’s ability to conduct a countywide vote center election, they should have had at least 450 polling locations. They were short by 200, needing 450+ to adequately test whether they could successfully conduct such an election.

Another major concern is that it took over 30 minutes for the information that a voter signed in at one polling place to propagate to the other 149 vote centers. That means it was possible for a person to vote at one location, then drive to another Election Day vote center and vote a second time without being stopped. Yes, they might eventually be discovered; but because our voting is done in secret, there’s no way the first or second ballot can be distinguished from all the other votes cast and the fraudulent vote be canceled.

So, Harris County’s first try at using vote centers was with about 700,000 possible voters, and there was a delay of over 30 minutes in the sign-in data posting. Expand that to 2.2 million possible voters in a November general election, and it becomes readily apparent 30 minutes could turn into an hour or more, especially if we are looking at the general election in November 2020. Consider the opportunities for voter fraud in that kind of environment.

I’m a strong proponent of using Election Day countywide vote centers, having helped bring them to Galveston County. But I am only a proponent when doing so maintains voting integrity.

The Secretary of State’s Office should watch carefully what happens in Harris County in the November 2019 election. If the posting of the data cannot be brought down to real time, then Harris County’s authority to use countywide vote centers in November 2020 should be withdrawn.

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Bill Sargent

Sargent lives in Galveston and served as Galveston County's Chief Deputy Clerk for Elections for over six years.