By Emily Banks Wooten
The new blue voter registration cards that Polk Countians recently received in the mail are incorrect and as of now there are no plans to correct them and send out new ones. Well, some of them are incorrect but not all of them. How do you know if yours is correct or not? You call Polk County Tax Assessor-Collector Leslie Jones Burks—the county’s voter registrar—at 936-327-6801.
Redistricting—the process of dividing or organizing an area into new political districts—is conducted every 10 years following the census. The purpose of redistricting is to establish and maintain voting districts that are faithful to the principle of one-person, one-vote.
According to 2020 Census figures, Polk County gained 10.4% in its population since the last accounting in 2010, up from 45,413 to 50,123. The Austin firm of Allison Bass & Magee LLP—which serves as general counsel for the Texas County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and as litigation counsel for the Texas Association of Counties—was retained by the county to assist in examining the data and developing a redistricting plan for the county.
Texas Law allows a deviation in commissioners’ precincts of up to 10% before boundaries are required to be redrawn and Polk County was over—in total—by 30.66%. Precinct 1 was 18.26% higher than the ideal population and Precinct 3 was 12.4% below the ideal, so a shifting of boundaries had to occur.
“We had eight different maps sent to us from Allison Bass. We got the last one the day before we were out for Christmas. I was just hoping and praying I put everyone in the right one,” Jones Burks said. “While everyone else had four days off for Christmas, I was off Christmas Day only because I was at the office dealing with maps. I was hoping and praying it would all work out.”
It didn’t and now there are many people who have been in Precinct 1 for years but now find themselves in Precinct 4—even if their card doesn’t reflect that.
“If anyone has any questions tell them to call the office and I’ll talk to them. We have a spreadsheet and can look it up and tell them which precinct they’re in,” Jones Burks said.
The confusion surrounding the voter registration cards raises the question what effect—if any—this may have on the upcoming March 1 primaries in which early voting begins Feb. 14.
Polk County was selected and approved last year to participate in a pilot project through the Texas Secretary of State’s Office called the Countywide Polling Program. Similar to early voting, the program allows a voter to vote at ANY county polling place on Election Day.
“We were given a successful status on our last election as part of the countywide polling place program,” Polk County Clerk Schelana Hock said. Once a county receives the “successful” status it is allowed to continue participating in the program.
Hock, the county clerk, and her staff run the elections but Jones Burks, the county tax assessor-collector, serves as voter registrar and disseminates the voter registration cards.