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Gregg County elections chief: Bring voter card, not phone to Saturday's balloting

By Peggy Jones pljones@news-journal.com
May 9, 2012 at 10 p.m.

It's crunch time for election workers.

Early voting ended Tuesday, and Election Day is Saturday.

It's crunch time for election workers.

Early voting ended Tuesday, and Election Day is Saturday.

"You can't use the same machines on election day that were used for early voting," said Kathryn Nealy, Gregg County elections administrator.

That's why workers spent Wednesday collecting machines from all early voting places. It's also why, on Friday, they will install fresh voting machines at each Saturday polling place across Gregg County.

Saleem Shabazz helped pick up and deliver 160 voting booths and 40 judge's booths.

"It helps me get my exercise," Shabazz said, sweat soaking his shirt. "I just wish more people took this more seriously."

Countywide, election officials reported moderate to slow turnout through the early voting period.

The city of Longview reported 976 total early votes cast in the elections for mayor and City Council District 1.

Kilgore City Clerk Deborah Dane said there were 520 absentee ballots cast there. Kilgore city and schools combined their elections so early voting and Saturday voting would take place at Kilgore City Hall, 815 N. Kilgore St.

Spring Hill ISD reported 275 early voters, and White Oak officials said 98 early votes were cast.

Polls open at 7 a.m. Saturday.

"I would like for people to know we pay almost $30,000 to mail out voter certificates," Nealy said. "While it's true you can take your driver's license to vote, that driver's license doesn't say you're a registered voter, what precinct you are in or where to vote. So keep your voter card with you. That's why we sent them to you. It will be a much faster process when you check in at the polls if you have it."

She knows. Nealy has been Gregg County's top election official the past six years and has spent the past two decades managing elections.

For city and school elections, she trained 60 election workers, conducting two-and-a-half-hour sessions for each group. But she started preparing for this election a year ago.

"We reserve our voting rooms one year ahead," she said.

In December, the election office sent out new voter certificates.

In January, Nealy started setting up her training schedule and began setting up the election in BOSS - the brain center of Gregg County's election headquarters.

Elections have come a long way since she started her career. Votes used to be cast and counted on paper ballots, she recalled.

In the "post-hanging-chad" world, voting is done electronically on lightweight machines connected to a judge's booth - affectionately known by election workers as "the brain."

Each vote cast is recorded in three places: inside the voting booth machine, in the hard drive of the brain and on the memory card of the brain.

The machines have been in use in Gregg County the past six years, Nealy said, bought as part of the Help America Vote Act. The machines were mostly federally funded with a small local match.

Cities and schools didn't get the federal funding to help defray cost of the machines, which is why the various local entities contract with the county election office to conduct elections.

Elections costs are one reason cities and schools that do not have multiple precincts usually combine voting to one location, as Kilgore and Gladewater have done.

Nealy says the county's election service runs the gamut from programing ballots to delivering voting machines and brains, to picking the machines up, bringing them back for counting, running tabulations and sending results to the Secretary of State's Office.

"The Legislature makes the laws that govern voting," Nealy said. "The Secretary of State's Office enforces them."

Many voters are oblivious to some of those laws, she said.

For example, you can't have a camera or a recording device within 100 feet of a polling place. Because cell phones can now take photos and record video, don't bring a cell phone to the polling place, she said. No campaign signs, either. That includes T-shirts, hat pins, caps and handouts.

What else does she want people to know?

"That this Saturday's election is for city and school only. There are no county, state or national offices on the ballots," she said. Those elections are May 29 or in November.

Early voting ballots will be tallied Saturday with the results announced shortly after polls close.



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