Ellis County will move to a countywide polling system for its next election in May.
The county previously had a precinct polling system where residents had to vote in their designated precinct. Elections Administrator Jana Onyon said countywide polling would allow residents to go to any polling location on Election Day and can rest assured in their vote being counted.
“This past election, we actually had 18 people fill out provisional ballots at a location that wasn’t their precinct,” Onyon said. “Those didn’t get counted.”
Ellis County Commissioners held a public hearing and a vote on the polling system during their court meeting on Tuesday morning. Two public speakers voiced their support of the measure during the hearing, as well as County Judge Carol Bush.
“When we started talking about opening up the possibility of countywide polling locations, that subject was very important to me,” Bush remarked after the public hearing. “We took our election department to a new level of professionalism. We have approved funding for new equipment. We have elevated that office. I think this is the next step.”
Bush said countywide polling is a welcome change to Ellis County’s elections and hopes it increases voter turnout.
“They have the ability to simply show up with proper identification and vote,” Bush said. “This makes voting more accessible to people. Not that we haven’t always been accessible with voting locations, but the point is made that it is often difficult for people to find polling locations on Election Day. They often do not realize the place they voted last year may not be the place they vote in the next election. That becomes very frustrating for our citizens.”
Onyon noted Ellis County would need an additional 35 election machines to meet the needs for countywide polling. She said a second public hearing would be conducted after the next election to receive voter feedback on the new polling system.
“We might have some type of exit-polling survey as well to see if we can get some information from those extra voters,” Onyon said. “If this is successful, then future elections can be held in this countywide polling location program, and we won’t have to solicit or have any more public hearings in future elections.”
“We’re excited,” she remarked. “We’re very excited about the future of our elections.”
The next general and special elections for Ellis County will be held on May 4, 2019.
The commissioner’s court also approved a five-year contract with Axon for the implementation of body cameras in the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office. The commissioners previously approved a one-year trial with the body cameras during their Oct. 24 meeting last year.
“These are actual body cams that we implemented at no expense last year,” sheriff Chuck Edge said. “The request is to assign a contract to keep the body cams. They’ve proven themselves to be invaluable to the county.”
The cameras will be used by deputies and staff at the Wayne McCollum Detention Center. While the sheriff’s office budgeted the contract for five years, the approved agreement was for the first year only. The sheriff’s office will bring another resolution to the commissioner’s court next year when it is time to renew the agreement for its second year.