Comal County Commissioners reviewed the first use of countywide polls on Tuesday, staging a public hearing that featured several speakers endorsing their permanent use beginning in the March 3, 2020 party primary elections.
Comal was one of several Texas counties employing universal voting centers for the first time for the Nov. 5 state constitutional amendment election.
Comments from the public hearing and others received through the mail and online will be considered by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which will issue the final verdict approving them for use in subsequent elections.
“This election was a surprise for the whole state as far as turnout,” Cynthia Jaqua, elections administrator, said.
Only 3.63% of eligible Comal voters cast ballots for state amendments in 2017.
“We totaled only a few thousand voters for the 2017 off-year election, and we planned for a similar small turnout this year,” Jaqua said. “Like many other counties, we saw it didn’t work.”
Jaqua said 15,827 of the county’s 103,638 eligible voters cast ballots, including 8,723 who voted at 13 countywide centers on the day of the election.
The 15.27% turnout was second in county off-year voter participation, ranking behind the 20.5% in 2013 that included Comal Independent School District’s bond proposal and ahead of the 2015 tally that also included the bond for the new county jail and sheriff’s office renovations.
Balloting was especially brisk at polls in Bulverde and Canyon Lake.
Bulverde Area Rural Library District elected two board members; Emergency Services District No. 3’s Proposition A, providing an option to raise the ESD’s maximum taxing rate from 8 cents to 10 cents per $100 property valuation, failed by 12 votes out of nearly 4,200 cast.
Jaqua said voters were still in line at three locations when polls closed at 7 p.m. – about 150 at the Mammen Family Library in Bulverde; 50 at Tye Preston Library in Canyon Lake and about 25 at Garden Ridge City Hall.
Turnouts at the three sites totaled 1,077, 1,000 and 732 voters, respectively. Christ Presbyterian Church saw 968 voters and another 800 cast ballots at the Comal County Senior Center. Jaqua said 60.86% cast ballots near their home precincts, with the remaining 39.14% voting at other polling locations.
Jaqua said county staffers asked exiting voters three questions: why they selected that site; if they knew they could vote at other sites; and if they liked the option to vote at any site. She said 1,888 chose sites because they were close to home and 2,350 liked being able to vote anywhere.
While 1,755 were aware they could vote at any site, but 965 said they weren’t — the lone beef of many speaking during the public hearing. The county reached 22,012 citizens in promoting the election between Sept. 18 and Nov. 5, which could have been more.
“The only thing I had a problem with was receiving more guidance on where to vote,” Albert Torres said. “I would like to see more advance notices through advertising, and adding signage on roadways that point to voting locations. Both would help tremendously.”
The Nov. 5 polling was also the first test of Hart InterCivic’s Verity polling equipment. The county spent $1.42 million for 275 Verity machines and software that all agreed is easier than Hart’s eSlate machines, which used a dial to select candidates and submit ballots and often confused many voters.
County party chairs – Republican Sue Piner and Democrat Gloria Meehan – also praised the new system and elections centers. Others included Jerrie Champlin and Roxana Deane of the League of Women Voters of the Comal Area; and Patrick Aten, New Braunfels city secretary.
“Voting centers are for the voters, and it worked out wonderfully well,” Deane said. “People were able to vote where they found it most convenient, and the only reason there were long lines was because there (are usually) fewer places to vote during a constitutional amendment election.
“Next year there twice as many places for people to vote – and I doubt there will be those problems. The (universal) sites are for the voters.”
Jaqua said the county has until Dec. 5 to send its information to the Texas SOS, and it hopes to hear a final decision before planning for the March primaries.
To access the video and Tuesday’s meeting agenda, visit www.co.comal.tx.us/agenda.htm.