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Clark County replacing polls with vote centers to cut costs, boost access

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Sam Morris

A voter heads to a polling location at the Winchester Cultural Center Tuesday, June 10, 2014.

Tue, Jul 11, 2017 (2 a.m.)

Clark County residents won’t be headed to the polls next year. They’ll be headed to the vote centers.

The phrasing might not be as catchy, but officials say the switch from traditional polling places to so-called vote centers will result in better access for residents, increased transparency, fewer mistakes and cost savings for taxpayers.

Commissioners greenlighted the switch back in April, and Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria presented preliminary plans at a public meeting Monday night.

Vote centers carry all ballots, which means people can show up to any of them rather than being forced to visit a specific, assigned polling place. It’s proven to be a popular option. In some of our local elections, more than half of voters cast their ballots during early voting instead of on Election Day.

“It means you don’t have to race across town at 5 p.m. to make it to your polling place,” Gloria says.

Instead, a resident of unincorporated Clark County could cast her ballot at the Henderson vote center right next to her office building, or she could swing by one near downtown Las Vegas after she drops her kid off at preschool.

If this concept sounds familiar, that’s because vote centers were used countywide during the two-week early voting period and on Election Days in the incorporated cities. Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Boulder City made the move this year during their municipal elections. Henderson has been using the model since 2007, and the county even longer.

Next year’s rollout is a natural extension, Gloria says. But with it should come a fancy new tool.

Voters can expect the county to launch an online portal where users can check the wait time at each center. There also will be a database updated in real-time of who voted, where they voted and what time they voted. (Such a log already exists for elections currently held using vote centers.)

For the 2016 election, Clark County had 279 polling places staffed by approximately 600 employees. Gloria previously noted that the switch to vote centers could halve those numbers.

Current plans for the vote center model call for 160 locations. In noncommercial areas, they are located no farther than two miles from one another, in hopes of providing equal access to all residents. In residential areas where voter turnout is highest, vote centers are located even closer together.

County staff is mining past voting trend data in order to predict how best to allocate vote centers and machines. They say they are factoring in transportation issues in neighborhoods where residents may not have access to cars. Gloria says they also welcome public input and questions about the sites or process.

Each center will have at least 20 machines, but possibly up to 40.

One expected outcome of the switch to vote centers is a decrease in provisional ballots. In the 2016 election, approximately 5,400 provisional ballots were cast. Most of them were due to voters showing up at the wrong polling place, either because they didn’t know where their assigned location was or because they moved but failed to update their voter registration. Vote centers will eliminate those issues.

“Nobody will be at the wrong polling place,” Gloria said.

The change may also reduce the need for mail-only ballots, which occasionally arise due to annexation or other issues.

Several voter-registration organizations, such as Mi Familia Vota, previously expressed support for the switch to vote centers, saying it’s an easier concept for new voters to understand and that more flexibility is needed to encourage people to vote.

Adds Gloria, “I’d challenge you to look at our map (of vote center sites) and hours and say you didn’t have the opportunity to vote.”

Eleven states currently use vote centers on Election Day. Clark County will be the only county in Nevada to implement vote centers on Election Day, though the option is largely irrelevant in small counties where there are only one or two polling places anyway. Washoe County has been considering a switch but is unlikely to change in time for next year’s election.

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