County expands early voting

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Voting in Austin County just got a lot more convenient.

At the request of Kim Rinn, the county’s election official, there will be additional opportunities for early voting in the March 3 Primary Election. Commissioners unanimously approved the early voting and election day polling locations during Monday’s session of commissioners court.

“After a lot of consideration… we’ll be opening up a new early voting center at the Hill Community Center (in Sealy). Hours will be Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” she said.

Early voting will be weekdays Feb. 18-28. Hours at the Hill Center, 1000 Main St., Sealy, will be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early voting in Bellville will be at 800 E. Wendt St., Room 4, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

“I’m hoping for more voter participation in early voting,” Rinn said.

“So this early voting, anybody can go and vote in Sealy?” asked Commissioner Randy Reichardt.

Rinn said anyone in the county will be able to vote there.

“We will be using ExpressVotes in early voting and I feel like that’s the best way to handle that,” she said. “They tabulate a lot easier and you don’t have a lot of questionable ballots that come through during that time when you use those machines. Based upon the November election, that went so well with respect to tabulating, I’m hoping people will come in and vote early and give them the opportunity to use those machines. The vision I have is to go county-wide with those machines.”

Rinn explained that in the past her office held early voting in Sealy and Industry for a few hours on specific days. She said a new law passed by the Legislature prohibits that practice.

Rinn said she needs the county’s approval to open early voting in Sealy because it’s at the county’s expense.

“Just a side note, early voting is a county expense. The way we should be able to work this out, my budget should be able to absorb it,” she said.

“The actual voting day is at the party’s expense,” County Judge Tim Lapham clarified.

Buddy Koenig, chairman of the Austin County Republican Party, commented that he would like to see voting precincts combined and to have the county purchase more of the ExpressVotes machines.

“One of the things that we’re going to be doing is re-calculating the precincts this coming year. Work like the devil to cut down some of these small precincts. Let’s get them combined,” he said. “In the day of horse and buggy we needed precincts everywhere. But today in a car it’s only two minutes, three minutes to the next place we can vote. Let’s combine these things and cut the cost of the elections down.

“You need to pony up and get the money for the machines, because this spending until 12 o’clock at night to try and run the ballots that we use is just not good for anybody. And we need to get the machines and consider its’ the new paper ballot that we’re using. There will be a paper ballot so you can go back and do a re-count if you need to. This is the way to go,” he added.

Rinn said state law dictates when precincts can be combined.

“If you have under 500 voters in a precinct, that is what allows you to combine that smaller precinct with another precinct,” she said. “And in this case, we do have two precincts that are well under 500 people. He’s right, it doesn’t make great sense to keep those smaller precincts, but with the upcoming 2020, when the census is done, we can direct that.”

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