Republican Denton County leaders on Tuesday signaled their openness to one day allowing voters here to cast ballots at any polling location on election days and not just during early voting periods — something Democrats say they have pushed for years.
With the Texas legislative session underway, Denton County commissioners gave their mostly unanimous support Tuesday for a resolution urging state lawmakers to amend the election code to allow counties that use paper ballots to establish voting centers.
“The major advantage is simply voter convenience,” Denton County Elections Administrator Frank Phillips said.
Election season typically presents the voting public with a maze of instructions and requirements on where they can go to vote. During early voting, voters can show up at any polling location in the county to cast a ballot. But on the day of elections, voters are confined to specific polling locations based on their assigned precinct.
That has created confusion for some voters, often turned away on election day when they arrive at the wrong polling location. A solution for this is to establish voting centers, essentially placing multiple precinct locations in one, so voters can cast ballots virtually anywhere on election day.
“We’ve been pushing for those for a long time,” Denton County Democratic Party Chairwoman Angie Cadena said.
The state’s election code allows voting centers only for counties that have all-electronic ballot equipment. Denton has electronic ballot equipment, but it also has paper ballots. The commissioners put their weight behind lawmakers amending the election code to allow the county to explore the option of voting centers.
Commissioner Dianne Edmondson was outspoken on the matter. Edmondson, who served as Denton County Republican Party chairwoman from 2002 to 2015, said she is not convinced the voting centers will reduce voter confusion on election day.
“I think there is maybe some overestimation of the amount of convenience that this would provide to the voters,” Edmondson said. “Commissioners, I’m going to ask you to reconsider putting this forward. I don’t think it’s nearly as important as some of the other things that we are asking our legislative delegation to consider.”
She ultimately favored the resolution, asking lawmakers to consider amending the election code after her colleagues pointed out this was only the first step in establishing the voting centers. But she indicated her support might dwindle in later steps.
“We’re only talking about language here,” said Commissioner Ron Marchant, also a Republican. “We’re not talking about concept.”
Phillips added: “We can discuss the value of voting centers all we want right now, but the fact of the matter is, we don’t meet the qualifications as they stand today.”
Cadena said she is optimistic about the county moving in this direction, but she said Edmondson’s hesitancy reflects the obstacles that lie ahead in this Republican-controlled state and county.
“That really does speak to me about what the Republican Party thinks about it,” Cadena said.
Jayne Howell, the current Denton County Republican Party chairwoman, wrote in an email: “Voting Centers can make sense if it allows registered voters to easily access voting locations, increase turnout and reduce confusion as to where to vote.”
Without elaborating, Howell added, “There are many details involved that need to be gathered before one can make an educated decision on this.”