WASHINGTON — As states nationwide replace precinct polling places with vote centers, election officials must choose locations in communities of color, ensure the sites are staffed with trained poll workers, and notify voters ahead of time of any changes, according to recommendations in a report released today by All Voting is Local. The report: Vote Centers: Potential Benefits for Voters but Standards Must be In Place examines experiences of Florida, Texas and Arizona, to urge state lawmakers and election officials to set clear standards to plan and run vote centers.
“Vote centers have great potential to simplify the voting process,” said Hannah Fried, National Campaign Director for All Voting is Local. “But they must be carefully planned and carried out. The Iowa caucuses taught us that significant changes to the voting process, especially close to Election Day, can cause confusion that can lead to longer lines and fewer ballots ultimately cast. State legislators and county election officials should adopt clear standards to ensure that vote centers make voting easier, not harder — particularly for voters of color or voters with limited English proficiency.”
In 2018, Florida experimented with vote centers in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order, expanding the use of such centers, known as “Super Voting Sites,” in Bay and Gulf counties for the 2020 elections. Without standards in place, Bay County allocated eight days of early voting to many of their sites while only providing one day of early voting at a site in a predominantly Black community.
Sixteen states nationwide permit local jurisdictions to use vote centers on Election Day. States including Arizona and Texas have faced challenges in their use of vote centers. In Arizona, for example, a switch to vote centers in Maricopa County in 2016 resulted in significantly fewer voting locations and long lines on Election Day, with Latino voters waiting an average of four hours to vote.
The report makes the following recommendations for election officials considering a move to vote centers: :
- Choosing Locations: County officials must analyze if voters of color or voters with disabilities will be disadvantaged by the location of potential sites. Before they pick sites, officials must seek feedback from historically disenfranchised communities including: voters with disabilities and Black, Latino, Native American, and Asian American voters.
- Ballot & Poll Worker Requirements: Election officials must ensure poll workers are trained on new technology required for vote centers. Officials must prepare back-up plans so that voting doesn’t come to a standstill if technological problems arise.
- Notifying Voters: During the transition to vote centers, election officials must inform voters of new polling places and explain the concept of vote centers through traditional media, social media, and direct voter outreach.
- Measuring Impacts: Decisionmakers must collect data on the impact of vote centers on turnout, efficiency, and the reduction of lost votes.
The full report and recommendations can be found here.