GATESVILLE — Coryell County Tax Assessor Justin Carothers went to Austin this week to testify in support of a measure that would expand the new countywide voting system to include party primary elections.
In February, the county commissioners’ court gave Carothers a green light to apply to the Texas secretary of state to try the countywide system that would enable any Coryell voter to cast a ballot at any of 11 voting centers on election day.
Currently, the countywide plan would only apply to general elections, but state Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, has introduced HB 1518 to include party primaries.
“This is a simple and straightforward bill that does not force anyone to do anything,” Carothers said of Sheffield’s measure. “This bill will be of great benefit to our voters.”
Carothers, the county’s top election official, was one of about a dozen people to testify about the bill before the House Elections Committee on Monday.
All those giving testimony — both Democrats and Republicans — spoke in favor of the measure with no one speaking in opposition, said Amanda Tollett, Sheffield’s legislative director in Austin.
The bill is pending in the Elections Committee, Tollett said.
Coryell County conducted joint primary elections in the past, Carothers said, but the county cannot use the countywide system for primaries unless HB 1518 becomes law.
Under the old system, Coryell voters went to 15 polling places across the county depending on the precinct in which they reside.
With the new system, the polling places have been reduced to 11 voting centers, and any voter can vote at any center regardless of precinct.
Voting sites eliminated by the plan would be the County Road and Bridge Department, First Presbyterian Church, Gatesville Senior Center, and Jonesboro Methodist Church.
“We do not want to start countywide vote centers (in general elections) and then have to go back to precinct voting for the primary, which is the way we would have to do it under current law,” Carothers said. “I think that would be very confusing for the voters.”
At a public hearing on the countywide system in February, some Coryell County Democrats expressed concern that the new system would mandate electronic voting, eliminating the paper-ballot option used by about 40 percent of county voters.
While the executive committee of the Coryell Democratic Party opposed the countywide system at the county hearing in February, county Democratic Chairman Gene Whittle said the party has taken no position on Sheffield’s bill.
The Coryell County Republican Party supported the countywide system at the February hearing.