BY PHILLIP WILLIAMS
GILMER–Upshur County Election Administrator Lory Harle, one of three speakers for last Thursday night’s quarterly meeting of the county’s Republican Party Executive Committee, explained why she is asking the state to allow countywide voting, in which an Upshur County voter could cast his/her ballot at any polling place in the county on election day.
Election judges “will never have to turn anybody away for being at the wrong location,” and such voting will reduce the number of “provisional” votes, several of which have been rejected because the voters cast their ballots outside the precinct where they lived, Harle explained. Probably 85 percent of provisional voters “are people (voting) at the wrong precinct,” she noted.
In the past, Harle has explained that voters who work in Longview and get off work at 6 p.m. on election days–one hour before polls close–could vote in nearby East Mountain instead of having to drive all the way to their home precinct.
Furthermore, Harle told the committee that “if there’s a long line at one (polling place),” a voter could go elsewhere “instead of waiting in line 30 minutes.”
However, voters who live in one precinct still cannot vote in other precincts’ races. For instance, a voter who lives in county commissioner precinct one could not vote in a race for county commissioner precinct three, nor could a voter in precinct three vote in the precinct four constable race.
Individuals casting ballots outside their own precinct will receive a ballot (on a voting machine) which lists only the races in which they are qualified to vote, Harle said. She compared that to the format used for early voting before election day.
“Hopefully, we’ll get approved (by the state for countywide voting),” Harle said. “It will bring a lot of convenience to the voters in Upshur County.”
A required public hearing on the proposal (held by the Upshur County Commissioners Court) has already occurred, she said.
As for concern that such a system could lead to voter fraud, the fact someone voted at a location outside his/her precinct is automatically posted electronically, meaning they “can’t go over here (to another polling place) and vote again” in the same election, she explained.
Harle also said the proposed new system could result in eliminating polling locations with “low turnout” or accessibility which is not good, but a committee comprised of some county officials and county political party chairmen would have to approve that.
Upshur is seeking to become one of only four Texas counties with populations under 100,000 who will be authorized to allow countywide voting, she said. The state will allow only six counties with populations over that to do the same, she added.
A county receives a “trial” countywide voting election and, if things go well, gets to continue such voting, the administrator noted. To qualify for countywide voting, she added, all in-person voting must be done on machines rather than paper ballot. (However, she said Monday, paper ballots will still be mailed to those who vote by mail.)
In addition, Harle told the committee, all early voting before election day will continue being held at the county courthouse.
The election administrator said she hopes to institute countywide election-day voting with this November’s election on proposed amendments to the state constitution. She said she will know by September whether the state approved it.
Harle also told the committee there is “no way” Upshur’s voting system is subject to fraud since it is not hooked to “any kind of network” nor the Internet, and she herself programs the machines.
“We back up all the (voting) machines on a laptop,” so data can be printed out in case of a re-count, she noted.
With all election-day voting now electronic, Harle was asked about the possibility of a power failure at a polling place, as has occurred in the county in the past. She said county commissioners have generators on election days, and that voters have the option of going to a different polling place if such a failure occurs.
Asked if voters had trouble adjusting to electronic voting in this past year’s elections, Harle said “quite a few” did and “no one really wanted to give it a chance, but now they understand.” She said the only problem is that “everybody wants to touch the screen” (rather than using a dial which casts their votes).
On another topic, Harle was asked what she and her assistant, Kami Whitworth (who accompanied her to the meeting) do in their courthouse office when it is not election time. Harle said handling voter registration “is an everyday job,” noted that her office also handles school and city elections in the county, and said the office checks batteries on voting machines.
The election office also is working to rid voter rolls of the dead, and is usually notified of a voter’s death by the state or the county clerk’s office, she noted.
Upshur County Republican Party Chairman Cynthia Ridgeway, who successfully advocated that the county commissioners court create the election administrator post, told the committee after Harle’s presentation that Harle was “a blessing” to the county.
About 40 persons attended Thursday’s meeting at the Lantana Activity Center outside Gilmer. Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb and State Republican Executive Committee member Dennis Cable were the other speakers.