By Stephanie Ratts Grissom

Herald correspondent

Voter registration is underway for the upcoming Nov. 6 General Election, and one local group is going above and beyond to encourage people to get out and register to vote before the last day of registration on Tuesday.

Irene Andrews of Nolanville, the local representative for the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, has partnered with Starbucks to host Voter-Palooza, which she described as “a 12-hour blitz of voter registration.”  

Andrews said, “Remember the number nine:  all day on October 9, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., at all nine Starbucks locations in Bell County.”  These locations are in Killeen, Harker Heights, Belton, and Temple.

Andrews said, “It felt like the last day to register to vote should be a Voter-Palooza day, and the people of Bell County should have somewhere to go that’s familiar to them.”

She said that she knew that Austin had something similar in the past, and decided, “We needed to do something here.”  She made the necessary contacts with Starbucks, got permission to hold the event, and the idea of Voter-Palooza became a reality.  And response to her idea has been overwhelming.  

“Many community members heard about it, then underwent the Volunteer Deputy Registrar training just to help,” Andrews said.

There will be tables set up outside all nine Starbucks locations, making it easy for anyone who has not yet registered to vote to do so, or to update their information if necessary.  

This may include address changes, name changes due to a change in marital status, or if one has not voted in the last two elections. All anyone has to do is stop by a table on the way into or out of their usual Starbucks, or swing into a Starbucks on their way to or from work — Andrews and her volunteers will be there to help.

To be eligible to register to vote, residents must be 18 years of age, or will be 18 on or before Election Day on Nov. 6.  People can also register their spouses, any eligible children and parents.

Andrews said that as a representative of the Silver-Haired Legislature, “I want to empower people to be a part of the political process.  You have no voice if you’re not registered to vote to begin with.  Your vote is your voice.”

Early voting will begin Oct. 22 and go through Nov. 2, and Andrews urges people to get out and vote early.  She said that voting early will help people avoid long lines, as well as allow time for any corrections to be made should a problem arise.

But there is another reason she says people will want to vote early this year:  Bell County has new voting machines, more of which will be available for use during early voting.

“I am proud that Bell County has this system,” Andrews said.

The new voting machines, called a ballot-marking devices, use touch-screen technology. Voters will be given a blank sheet of paper with a bar code, their “voter card,” which they will feed into the voting machine.  

From there, using the touch screen, they will vote for their candidates by following the prompts given; voters will be taken to a screen at the end of their session to review their choices.

When finished, they will be prompted to print out their selections, and from there they will take their card to a digital scanner, called the DS200, and scan their card, which officially casts their ballot.

The DS200 takes a digital picture of the cards and stores the information on an internal memory card, and prints out the precincts’ tallies on paper once the polls close.

For voters who like the old-style ballot method of voting, they will have that option, but this will be the last election it will be offered.

However, Andrews said there are many benefits to the new voting machines.  

First, if a person comes to a precinct not their own during early voting, the bar code assigned them on their voter card will let the machine know which precinct they belong to, showing the races for their precinct alone.  

There are also safeguards in place to help limit error during the voting process, such as the chance to review their choices at the end of their session, and the printed copy the voter can review before scanning it into the DS200.

Andrews said the machines are also more cost-effective, using regular copy paper instead of card stock, which has also eliminated the need for pre-printing costs.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to the new machines is the security they afford the voter.  Since the information is stored on an internal memory card, nothing is connected to the internet, so the system is un-hackable.

“Voter confidence is so important,” Andrews said.  “Our voters need to know their votes count and are secure.”

Visit https://essvote-1.wistia.com/medias/fn4p5z1f2a for a short video demonstration on how to use the new voting machines.  

For more information on Voter-Palooza, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/241658200032163/

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