Polls may not be ready for crowds

February 11, 2008 5:33:46 PM PST
The Texas primary is just a few weeks away, and some local election offices admit they're not ready for a rush to the polls. With both parties still undecided and the Democratic candidates neck and neck, Texas is the biggest prize left this primary season. But the prospect of a big voter turnout has taken Fort Bend County by surprise. Now county officials are scrambling to resolve the problem. In an average primary, voter turnout hovers somewhere around 15%. Since the Texas primary could be so significant this year, elections officials agree there could be turnout of 40%.

Watching the interest in the presidential election elsewhere, Fort Bend Elections Administrator J.R. Perez says he's concerned that Fort Bend County and its 840 e-slate machines won't be able to keep up with voter demand on election day.

"We still do not have enough equipment to get it to where I would like it to be," Perez said.

Perez says Fort Bend County needs 1600 machines -- double the current number -- in order to avoid long lines at the polls. Otherwise he says there may be long lines similar to the two hour wait voters endured in August 2006 at one Sugar Land church. Perez hopes an emphasis on early voting now will ease election day frustrations.

He said, "We need them to vote early to relieve the pressure on election day. So we're increasing the number of early voting sites."

Perez is meeting Tuesday with county commissioners to talk about potential solutions, including voting by "super precinct." That would allow anyone to vote at any precinct, not just where they are assigned to vote. Perez says that might ease the burden.

While some voters say long lines at the polls might keep them from casting ballots, others say it's their duty to do so.

"I value the privilege to be able to vote," said voter Chante Ballou. "Even if I have to stand in a long line and work with whatever machines we have in the meantime, that's what I'll do."

There will be 14 early voting sites throughout Fort Bend County, but you can vote early wherever you live. Early voting runs February 9 to 29.