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County plan to establish voting centers hits snags

The effort to establish countywide voting centers for upcoming elections is running into snags with disagreement among committee members as to what is actually needed. Yvonne Ramon, head of the County Elections Department, told Hidalgo County Commissioners in their Tuesday, May 21, meeting, the committee had been divided into four parts due to the size of the county. Each group was given instructions and had 18 days to determine where voting centers should be located. Two of the four subcommittees had done their jobs and located suitable locations for voting centers. Two had not.

Ramon told the Progress Times that the legislature had given counties permission to reduce the number of polling sites by up to 65 percent the first year. For Hidalgo County, that would be 48 polling places instead of the current 74 polling places. She said the number could be reduced by 50 percent the second year. Recent studies have shown that 70 percent of the people voted in 25 locations.

Ramon said part of the reason for the reduction is the cost of operating the polling places. Each place had eight workers and payroll costs were as much as $12,000 per location. Some locations had low voter turnout and did not justify the cost.

The elections clerk said in some areas suitable locations were difficult to find because each location had to be ADA compliant for voters with disabilities.

Ramon said the need for suitable voting centers where early voting and voting on Election Day could take place is important. Approximately 70 percent of all voting takes place during early voting days. Hidalgo County had a large voter turnout of 46 percent during the last election.

During discussion under open forum Ann Cass spoke, saying the groups she represents were upset because they could not have their own committee to determine locations; they had to work by precincts instead. Cass represents low-income workers who primarily live in colonias.

Cass felt the time allotted was insufficient and did not allow adequate time to study locations. She also said her committee did not understand they had to measure the locations to see now many voting machines could be used there. Most sites needed to be able to accommodate 10 voting machines. They also were to determine an ADA route for disabled voters inside the voting location and take pictures of the site.

Cass recommended the county continue to use the 74 polling places now in effect to give the committees more time to study the needs. Her committees had sheets of information but no photos to turn in by the deadline. She was told not to turn in anything unless she had all the information.

Also protesting the way things were being done was Rosalee Weisfeld. She discussed events in Travis County and spoke against the reduction in polling sites, which she referred to as a method of “voter suppression.”

Weisfeld said Precinct 4 had voted to maintain all current centers and not cut down the number of locations to six as proposed.

Commisssioner Joseph Palacious, Precinct 4, asked what the cost would be if all early voting locations were fully staffed as voting centers. Ramon said she did not have the figures with her but could get them for him.

She later told the Progress Times the cost would be astronomical and cost the county over $1 to keep each polling place fully staffed and open during the entire early voting period.

“The creation of voting centers is not written in blood,” Ramon added. “This is a pilot program. If it does not work, we can revert back to the old system.”

Judge Ramon Garcia said it looked as if more people knowledgeable about what it takes to run an election need to be brought in to serve on the Precincts 2 and 4 committees to help resolve the issues.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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