New election law upping early voting hours could challenge rural counties

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 10:49 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Voters will have more time to complete their ballot early this year. A new law extends those hours across the state, meaning more people will be needed to work the booths, and counties will have to find more money to pay them.

This November, the main early-voting location in each county must be open for 12 consecutive hours on the last two days of early voting. Next year, for the primary and general election, the main location must be open for 12 hours every weekday the last week of early voting. Plus, it must open for 12 hours the last Saturday and six hours the last Sunday.

“Some things that work for larger counties don’t always work for smaller counties,” Krystal Valentin, joint elections administrator for Terry County, said.

Poll workers are used to working early voting locations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. In Terry County, they make $13 an hour, with three to four working each location.

Valentin says many of her workers are retirees - and the new 12-hour shifts will be tough on them.

“We are already looking at primary, like who’s going to be available? What hours are we going to need to fill more people in? Where are we going to do less? How are we going to move some people around?” Valentin said. “We have had poll workers who said, you know, I’m not working any longer.”

Valentin says her rural county could use some extended hours, and it’s provided them in popular elections before.

“But a 12-hour week in every election is probably not going to benefit us and I don’t think we’re going to see an increase in voters to be honest, in our area,” she said.

The additional hours means the county had to up its election budget for next year by more than $20,000. Valentin says the money for additional workers could have been used for other projects or could fall on the taxpayers.

The state provides some money to help offset expenses through Chapter 19 funds, which depend on voter registration and are mainly used for voter registration efforts.

“Chapter 19, that funding is there. It does help a little, but it’s not going to, the county is going to take on the burden,” Valentin said.

While filling the positions could be a challenge, Valentin hopes people will step up to the plate.

While she’s overseeing even more early voting hours, Valentin says she’ll need more help in-office for everyday election things. As the only full-time staffer, she can only hire part-timers to help, making this even more challenging.

“Being involved will give you an insight of what’s really going on. It gives you a chance to serve and give back to your community and and gives you insight on really how your government’s working,” she said.