If the statewide mask-wearing order is still in place this November, be prepared to get a longer look of your face after you’ve presented a photo ID when you show up to vote during the general election on Nov. 3.
The masks, which help combat the spread of COVID-19, will account for some additional time to determine the voter-to-photo ID match as was the case this past week during the primary runoff election in Fort Bend County. Admittedly, it was not that much more time. It wasn’t anywhere near as challenging as it probably is for law enforcement, when officers try to identify a masked person involved in a crime from surveillance footage.
That footage is probably a bit grainy, too. But at the voting site, the view was live and much clearer.
Because I qualified as a registered voter in Fort Bend County who completed the required training, last week I participated as part of a team of election workers led by precinct co-judges, and also did a couple of voter-to-photo ID matches when I relieved the point person. I was also privy to the operations from the administrative side of the vote.
On Election Day, the job of the working teams at polling sites is to facilitate voters with a process intended on ensuring the right to vote in an honest and well-organized manner. We took an oath to do this and were sworn in at 6:30 a.m. before the polls opened at 7 a.m.
We knew that our challenge was not only matching the masked faces to required photo IDs, but also to inform voters about the new voting equipment that was used for the first time in Fort Bend County. It replaced an older voting system that had been in operation for about 15 years. Bet you remember that little spinning metal wheel and punch button right next to it at the voting booth. All gone!
If you voted last week in the primary runoffs, you may have been among those in the electorate that complimented our team for having the new set-up. Personally, we did not have anything to do with it. But upon further review, we did.
The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court, whose commissioners and county judge were elected by a voting majority, approved the new voting machines, about 1,700 of them, this January. So that means that as a majority, we were the ones that authorized the machine replacement and purchase by virtue of having elected the members of the commissioners court and county judge. Good call!
If you have not voted using the new machines, you have another opportunity before the end of the year. The general election, which includes the presidential election and many other federal, state and local level offices, will be held on Nov. 3.
Experts predict a record voter turnout in numbers not seen in a century or more in U.S. politics, according to an article in U.S. News and World Report. Let’s brace ourselves for the overdrive, also predicted to be the case on the part of both major political parties.
We had a clue of things to come from the recent voter turnout. Fort Bend County’s reported numbers for the July 14 primary runoff were not disappointing. Make a note that Fort Bend has seen electorate turnout numbers lower than 4 percent and it wasn’t that long ago. This time, 81,589 ballots were cast from a pool of 459,953 registered voters. That’s close to 18 percent … and in a runoff.
This was in part due to the contentious race between Troy Nehls and Kathaleen Wall for the Republican nod for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in District 22. That turned out in favor of Nehls, the Fort Bend County Sheriff, for a place on the ballot this fall seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Pete Olson.
And on the Democratic Party’s side, there was more than one hotly contested race, including the one in which Sarah DeMerchant was victorious for a run this fall for the Texas House of Representatives in District 26. DeMerchant will run against Republican primary runoff winner Jacey Jetton. That office is currently held by State Rep. Rick Miller, who is not running for reelection.
With this kind of voter turnout, what Fort Benders are realizing is that if you don’t vote, this gives greater weight to the people showing up, who will have a disproportionate influence in the way government works.
So, in keeping with things to come and for every local voter’s benefit, here’s the rundown on the new voting machines. Each is in a private voting booth, like before. But the voting process is now a two-step … very Texan, and somewhat a cross between old and new school. That’s because there’s a large, hard-stock paper ballot given to each voter and it’s taken to a digitized voting machine, where it is inserted to begin voting. That’s the first step. The candidate selections are made on a screen with what is being called a disposable stylus.
“It’s a Q-tip,” said a voter right after being handed one.
Screen prompts on the voting machine allow for candidate choices and the last prompt is for printing the paper ballot. Here’s the second step: The paper ballot is taken by the voter and inserted in a large ballot box in the room, where the vote is literally “cast.”
“That means we have a paper backup of each ballot,” said another voter right after she placed her ballot in the box.
Our team also understood that before casting the paper ballot, a voter would have three times to redo selections, just in case a candidate may have been inadvertently selected by the voter, or due to a change of heart.
After casting the ballot in the box, you’ll get to see an American flag waving on the screen with text indicating that the vote has been officially cast.
It doesn’t get any better than that … a say in who will lead us.