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Often, when localities consider changes to the traditional voting structure of neighborhood-based precincts, there is some question whether voters used to a certain polling place can and will adapt to new locations. In Brazos County, TX – home to Texas A&M – figures from the recent election suggest they will, and in high numbers. The Eagle has more:
In the first Brazos County election that residents were allowed to vote at any polling location, several of the 26 “vote centers” used Nov. 3 saw a high percentage of voters from outside precincts.
The vote centers were tested in Brazos County for the first time during the Bryan City Council and Bryan and College Station school board elections, functioning like early voting locations in that a person could vote at any of the polling places regardless of which precinct they lived in. A little more than a month after the election, reports from the county clerk’s office show the majority of the traffic at several vote centers came from residents who lived in other precincts.
At the Brazos County and College Station school district administration buildings, 95 percent of voters came from outside precincts. Arena Hall also had a high number of out-of-precinct voters at 93 percent, and they also made up 90 percent of voters at Church of the Nazarene and the Memorial Student Center [MSC] on the Texas A&M campus.
Parkway Baptist Church, GW Williams Tabernacle, the Lincoln Center and College Station City Hall also had high percentages of out-of-precinct voters.
The effect wasn’t uniform, however; there were a number of locations that had a substantially lower number of “out-of-precinct” voters – perhaps suggesting that voters in that area like their local polling place or that those locations aren’t necessarily attracting voters looking for somewhere more convenient to cast a ballot:
Vote centers that saw the lowest amount of voters from outside precincts include the Wellborn Community Center and Precinct 4 Volunteer Fire Station with 12 percent, and the Millican Community Center and Siegert Center with 13 and 15 percent, respectively.
The Brazos Center, which saw the most Brazos County residents, had 43 percent outside precinct voters. Voters from outside precincts at the First Baptist Church and Christ United Methodist Church, the second- and third-busiest vote centers, made up 30 and 33 percent of voters there, respectively.
The local election official was very pleased with the preliminary numbers, and suggested that the numbers will grow as vote centers become more familiar to voters:
Kristeen Roe, Brazos County tax assessor/collector, whose office oversees the voter registration department, said the feedback she received on the vote centers was overwhelmingly positive.
“For those people who will vote early, oftentimes there are only five early polling locations, and people will choose one close to where they work, which is not necessarily close to where they live,” Roe said. “By setting up the vote centers, it provides for simplicity and ease of access for any vote center you’re close to.”
Roe said a vote center committee made an effort to identify locations that were evenly spread throughout the county and “fairly well-used.” Roe said she expected some locations, such as the MSC, to see more voters than they did, but expects those number to grow if the vote centers continue to be used and people adjust to the idea.
Anecdotal reports also indicate that voters like the option of voting in a place that’s convenient to somewhere other than their home:
Diana Davis, a volunteer with the Brazos County Republican Party and polling judge at First Baptist Church, said while she did recognize some familiar faces who vote at the church each election, several people remarked that they had come by because they were at Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Sonic and other nearby locations when they remembered to vote.
Davis said one of her friends who was a polling judge at Church of the Nazarene said several people who voted there were pleased by its easy accessibility off Texas 6.
Brazos will make a report back to the state on its experience as it experiments with vote centers – but these numbers indicate that as voters become aware of and accustomed to alternatives to the neighborhood polling place they may not be too keen on switching back.
I’d be curious to see similar “out-of-precinct” numbers from other Texas communities or elsewhere nationwide. This data can help identify the best locations by revealing where people are also “voting with their feet” in the choice of vote center. Stay tuned …