Smith County Elections Administrator Karen Nelson was honored Sept. 1, 2015 with the Making Democracy Work Award from the Smith County League of Women Voters.
“We give the award every year to someone who has made a difference in the community,” the local organization’s President Andie Rathbone said. “We decided to give it to Karen for her work on the Communitywide Voting Centers because they are going to make it easier for people to vote. And that’s one of the primary missions of our organization.”
Voting Centers are basically an early-voting concept on Election Day, allowing residents to vote at any polling place without being restricted to their precinct.
Mrs. Nelson received approval from the state just last week to go forward with the voting centers for the upcoming November Election. She thanked the work of her staff, commissioners, her advisory committee and all others involved in making the Voting Centers a reality.
Mrs. Nelson received approval from the local Democratic and Republican parties, as well as elected officials, to create Voting Centers in Smith County. For several months, she worked with an advisory committee made up of representatives from both parties, minority representatives and election judges to compile a list of polling locations to get approved by the Commissioners Court and submit to the state.
During Commissioners Court on Sept. 1, Ms. Rathbone presented Mrs. Nelson with the Making Democracy Work Award and said she also wanted to recognize her stakeholder management in the process. After working with an advisory committee to come up with polling places for the new voting center concept, there was not a discouraging word made during two public comment meetings.
In fact, two Commissioners Court meetings held for public comment drew more than a dozen people speaking in favor of county-wide voting centers, which would allow voters to cast their ballot at any location on Election Day instead of just in their specified precinct.
“I would like to thank the Smith County League of Women Voters for presenting me with the 2015 Making Democracy Work Award by recognizing my work on establishing Countywide Vote Centers in Smith County,” Mrs. Nelson said. “With voters now being allowed to vote at any of the 34 Election Day voting locations, I look forward to this program increasing our voter turnout in Smith County. The League of Women Voters is a wonderful organization and a true advocate for the education and importance of voting.”
Smith County had 49 Election Day polling locations for the 2012 General Election and 42 polling locations in the 2014 General Election. Voting Centers could allow the county to reduce that to the minimum 32 polling locations. Smith County has 34 proposed polling locations to submit to the state.
Mrs. Nelson said she wants to use the Voting Centers this November because it is a smaller election, which would allow for any issues to be worked out before the larger 2016 election.
Commissioner Terry Phillips said he brought the idea to Mrs. Nelson after learning about the concept at a commissioners’ conference. “I think it would be more convenient for voters and no one would be turned away from a polling place because they could vote anywhere,” he said, adding that it would also save the county money.
Since the Secretary of State approved Smith County’s proposed plan to implement the Voting Centers, the Elections Department will now have to submit an election report detailing the November Election results by Dec. 3. If the state designates that the election was “successful” using the new Voting Centers, the county may continue to use the program for subsequent elections.