Big changes and new equipment are coming for Election Day voting in Dallas County as soon as November. County Commissioners Tuesday approved a voting centers plan that will allow voters to cast Election Day ballots at any polling place, not just in their home precinct.
It makes Election Day more like early voting, which already uses 38 polling places open to any registered voter.
"So even if you're at work, at lunch, driving through and see a sign, you can stop at any time and cast your ballot. So it's very convenient for the voters and that's what we want to see," said Dallas County Election Supervisor Toni Pippins-Poole.
Currently, Dallas County voters must cast ballots at their assigned polling place on Election Day.
"About 3,000 people's votes were discarded in the last election just because they were in the wrong place," said County Commissioner Elba Garcia. "Voting centers is the way of the future."
Supporters of the change appeared at Commissioners Court Tuesday.
"The technology is proven. More than 50 counties are using vote centers on Election Day," said Elizabeth Walley with the League of Women Voters.
Dallas County has purchased new equipment for the changes.
New tablet like devices will electronically scan photo ID's to match voters with the roll of registered voters and log the voter as casting a ballot beginning with May municipal elections. It will replace the thick paper voter roll that election workers have used in the past to verify eligibility.
Beginning with November elections, the ID scan with produce a customized paper ballot that voters will insert into new touch screen devices. The voter will mark choices on the touch screen which will then mark the paper ballot. The voter can verify those choices before inserting the paper ballot into new tabulation equipment.
The paper trail is maintained throughout the process for review in case of problems later.
"We have paper back up coming to all of this equipment. Everything you are using is going to have that. And that word needs to get out so more people have confidence in their vote," said community activist Bill Betzen.
Officials said there are also technology safeguards in the new technology against those who may try to hack into the electronic system or commit vote fraud.
"The important thing is, if somebody did that, it would do them any good. They wouldn't be able to get away with it," said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Tuesday's approval by Dallas County Commissioners advances the plan.
"I'm very excited about the new technology, very excited about the efficiency, and the convenience for our voters. So we're in the 21st century," Pippins-Poole said.
State officials must still approve the Dallas County plan, but County officials have been in touch with State officials and they do not anticipate any problem. More of the new Dallas County equipment is still on the way. And community meetings will be held on the voting centers plan the next few months for public input on polling place locations and to explain the changes to voters.
County officials intend to use all of the current polling places and also all of the early voting locations as Election Day voting centers in 2019 and 2020 elections. The 2019 November election, with lower turn out expected, would be a test for much higher turn out expected in the 2020 Presidential election.
In the future, once voters get used to the change, some Election Day polling places with very little traffic could be discarded to use poll workers at the busier locations.
County officials hope the added convenience increases Election Day voter turnout. Around 68 percent of Dallas County ballots are now cast in early voting when times and locations are flexible.