SAN MARCOS, Texas - The Hays County Elections Office has announced some changes to polling locations ahead of the November general election.
Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson explained the changes put in place in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in part to enhance access for residents.
“Running elections requires following state election law and always ensuring every voter has access to a safe polling location,” she said. “Our rationale for making changes was based on adapting to the switch to county-wide vote centers, as well as the COVID-19 situation.”
She said after Hays County became a vote center county in 2019, her office had to look at how the overall process went, including what worked and what needed to be enhanced or improved.
“We had to take a look at how having vote centers impacted polling locations in terms of numbers of voters, how many pieces of equipment would be needed and how many poll workers to hire,” Anderson said.
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Some of the changes implemented since then include adding a different line and more check-in equipment at the county’s busiest polling locations to assist voters who may have potential problems with voting. Anderson said a large percentage of issues are related to registration.
In many cases, individuals are not registered to vote, are registered in another county, or have some other registration-related issue. People may not realize that voter registration is at the county level, not the state. If someone moved to Hays County from another Texas county, they need to register to vote in Hays County.
Offering additional assistance before a person gets in line to vote can help expedite the overall process and keep lines moving, according to Anderson. Keeping the lines separate also helps since those with no issues can freely move along through the process.
According to Anderson, voter preparation will also go a long way toward avoiding potential pitfalls and bottlenecks. She encourages everyone to be informed and ready to vote and her office will be sharing information about getting registered or checking registration in advance of the Early Voting period, then taking advantage of this year’s extended Early Voting.
“Why wait? I encourage every Hays County voter to confirm their registration information in advance, using the online tool by the State of Texas,” she said. “By coming prepared with the correct identification and the knowledge that you are properly registered, it can help make the voting experience smoother.”
Hays County residents can check this website to see if they are already properly registered to vote. Anderson also recommends checking polling locations and sample ballots prior to coming out to vote. “This year will be the first election that voters will not have the option of straight-party voting, so knowing the ballot before voting will help speed the process up,” she said.
Anderson said COVID-19 necessitated a need for changes to the layout and flow of polling locations, as well as more frequent cleaning and disinfection, touchless voting and other procedural issues. The county's polling procedures will involve an emphasis on proper social distancing, routine disinfection of the equipment and plastic gloves to allow voters to avoid touching the equipment.
Texas State University’s LBJ Student Center, which has been an on-campus voting location in the past, is not available this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Texas State University officials have offered its Performing Arts Center (PAC) as an alternate location for on-campus voting. According to Anderson, the university location has been the fifth or sixth busiest polling location in the county in the past.
For the November election, the PAC will have 12 polling booths, instead of the usual eight, as well as university staff outside and poll workers and signage inside to assist voters with social distancing.
Anderson also noted that because of Governor Greg Abbott’s Order, early voting was extended nearly a week. “That means we will have 19 days of voting this year,” she said.
A second campus location was considered by Hays County Commissioners Court, but in a 3-2 vote, the majority of the Court decided that adding an additional check-in line and more voting booths at the university location, along with 19 days of voting, would ease any concerns and allow students, faculty, staff and members of the public to exercise their right to vote without any undue impediments
“With two check-in lines at that location,” Anderson said, “we know it will help keep the flow moving efficiently.”
Anderson said the most important advice she can offer voters is to take advantage of the nearly three-week Early Voting period this year. “The more voters utilize Early Voting, the faster the lines will move on Election Day and the more efficiently results will be posted on election night,” she said.
Click here to visit the Hays County Elections website for information about registering to vote, polling locations, dates and times for voting, voting requirements and more.