Early voting is underway in Texas right now for the upcoming May 6 elections. On Election Day, voters in almost 100 Texas counties will be able to cast ballots at any voting precinct in the county in which they’re registered. That’s a huge convenience for a lot of voters. But that policy might not be allowed for long.
Under a bill approved by the Texas Senate, countywide voting on Election Day would be banned in Texas. Senate Bill 990, authored by Republican Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, passed 17 to 12 in along party lines last week.
The bill, if approved by the House, would require residents to vote at an assigned precinct, typically in their neighborhood on Election Day. Larger voting centers and voting at other facilities in the county would be permitted through the early voting period.
Natalia Contreras, who covers voting in Texas for VoteBeat in partnership with the Texas Tribune, said Texas Counties have been doing countywide voting since 2008. Lubbock County was one of the first to pioneer the system.
The push to end countywide voting is rooted in right wing talking points about election fraud. Republicans have said that countywide voting makes it easier for people to vote more than once, or for hackers to manipulate the system. Contreras said there is no evidence to support these claims.
“Ever since former President Trump spread lies about the outcome of the 2020 election, we’ve seen some lawmakers listen to all of these election conspiracies out there,” Contreras said. “Sen. Hall is particularly one who’s filed legislation based on what conspiracies are out there about elections. So this bill is one of those. There are no problems with countywide polling. The secretary of state has said so. Sen. Bob Hall himself last week on the Senate floor didn’t provide any evidence that there were any problems with this program.”
The benefit of countywide voting, Contreras said, is that it makes it easier for people to cast a ballot.
“For so long, so many counties have been using this program where you can seriously just get off work and go vote at your nearest location and not have to worry about whether you’re at the right precinct,” Contreras said. “What election officials have told me is that a lot of people don’t think about elections – don’t think about Election Day – until that day. … So you’re not making sure ahead of time or preparing way ahead of time to make sure you’re going to vote at the right location.”
One concern is whether election officials can staff enough precincts for this voting system, Contreras said.
“(Election officials) have to run less at polling sites with this current program,” Contreras said. “So if we go back to precinct by precinct voting, they’re going to have to staff more locations. They’re going to have to purchase more equipment.”
If the rules change, there is also a fear that it will add confusion to the process.
“We’re seeing loss changing almost every legislative session. The laws around voting are changing so much that it’s going to confuse voters. So election officials are really worried that a voter is going to get to a precinct because maybe they’re confused or they’re not sure and they’re going to have to cast a provisional ballot and that ballot’s not going to count because, under precinct by precinct voting, you are going to have to vote at the location where you’re assigned to.”