Early voting for the midterms is going on right now. During this time period, Texans can cast a ballot at any polling location in their county. But on Election Day, rules might be different depending on where you live.
Some counties still use a precinct model requiring you to go to a specific polling place on Election Day. About a third of Texas’ 254 counties have moved away from that and to the vote center model.
“Vote center process is that you can go anywhere in this county and vote on Election Day,” explained Lubbock County’s Elections Administrator Roxzine Stinson. “Precinct-based, if you don’t get there by 7 o’clock, you vote a provisional in another precinct and your vote’s most likely not going to count. This way, you don’t have to worry about that.”
Fewer provisional ballots is just one benefit Stinson sees in vote centers. Logistically, it helps election administrators.
If Lubbock County was still using the precinct system, they’d have over 90 voting locations now. The county election office’s mapping specialist, Aaron Frodsham, said that would be a challenge.
“On the vote center system, we can consolidate that down to these larger locations where we have the facilities, we have the access, the ADA compliance, the parking,” he said.
Still, the county has fewer places to vote than it used to. Lubbock County was the original pilot for voting centers in Texas. In 2006, it reduced voting locations from 69 to 35, while making sure to not close polls in the most rural areas. That’s about how many locations they still operate. Stinson said they’re planning to add more locations to accommodate Lubbock’s growth before the November 2024 general election.
Frodsham said consistency can make up for proximity. He points out that precincts change often, but vote centers mostly stay the same.
“A voter doesn’t have to worry which one they go to,” Frodsham said. “They go to the one that’s most convenient.”
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science expert at the University of Houston, said having less information to keep track of, like a precinct polling place, can help voters, especially in the midst of other changes to Texas’ election laws.
Rottinghaus added, though, that the election year counties move to the vote center model, there can be confusion.
“If you change that, and pull the polling place out of those locations and put them someplace else, people may not feel as connected to or rooted in those communities,” he said. “And that could hurt the ability for people to turnout in that neighborhood and have a lot of political effects.”
Rottinghaus said areas new to countywide voting centers could see an initial increase in voter turnout, but that’s not likely to last past the first polling cycle.
Webb County, where Laredo is located, is the largest county using voting centers for the first time this Election Day. The Secretary of State’s Office reports four counties with populations under 100,000 are also giving this a go.
Denton and Montgomery Counties are the largest by population that still use precinct polling on Election Days.
Brad Burt contributed to this story.