The Hays County Commissioner Court’s decision not to approve additional polling sites on Texas State’s campus sparked a partisan debate about voting accessibility and election influence within the Court and campus organizations.
On Aug. 25, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2 against adding additional polling locations to Texas State’s campus. The Court did approve voting locations for Election Day, including a vote center at the Performing Arts Center located on the far southeast end of the San Marcos campus.
This new location will be replacing the previous LBJ Student Center location. The student center can no longer be utilized due to alternative usage brought on by COVID-19.
When it was announced that the polling center would be moved out of LBJ, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra voiced concerns that moving the polling location from the heart of campus to the outskirts would not be an adequate alternative.
“When I saw the performing arts center, I thought ‘what a wonderful site,’ but this is not a good replacement, it’s a good compliment,” Becerra said.
Becerra’s primary concern is the number of polling locations on campus. Organizations at Texas State such as College Democrats, MOVE and Texas Rising also believe that only having one voting location on campus is insufficient.
Due to Texas State’s student and faculty population of about 40,000 and history of long waiting lines, 4-6 hours, at on-campus polling sites on election days, Becerra says it is necessary to provide more campus polling locations to provide the university community more voting access.
On Aug. 5, College Democrats, Judge Becerra, Rep. Erin Zwiener and County Chief-of-Staff Alex Villalobos were given a tour of the PAC polling location with Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Mary Ellen Cavitt, Vice President of Institutional Inclusive Excellence Sherri Benn and Dean of Fine Arts and Communication John Fleming.
At the end of the tour, College Democrats asked the administration to consider adding the Student Recreation Center for Election Day so students could have more opportunities to vote. By Aug. 7, the student organization received confirmation that the Rec Center was approved by the university to hold a polling site.
Many members of the Commissioners Court opposed adding the REC Center to the list of voting sites for approval, stating that because they had not received a formal recommendation, they could not approve it. The Court then voted to approve the list of polling locations without the addition of the Rec Center.
Becerra says the decision to not include the Rec Center as a polling location was driven by a Republican desire to suppress the student vote.
“I will not allow folks to just quickly brush the community aside because they don’t want [Texas State students] voting,” Becerra said. “Their goal is to make the lines so long, and with COVID-19 upon us, have public health win the day and people not vote.”
Commissioner Mark Jones believes it would be unfair to add another polling site on campus.
“The only way I would support another location [is] if the elections commission recommended it — [if] Jennifer Anderson, the elections administrator, said we could staff them and if the other precincts got an extra voting place as well,” Jones said.
Jones says he has an issue with people on ballots attempting to “cherry-pick” polling locations.
“Why should [Democrats] get special treatment when the rest of the county doesn’t?” Jones said.
Commissioner Walt Smith says the new campus location serves only one particular voter base, giving Democrat votes an advantage over Republican votes in the county.
“A partisan group of four Democratic candidates took a tour of the university and came back and said they wanted to add a polling location… if four Republicans had came in and said ‘okay let’s find the most conservative Republican hardcore section of the county and put a polling location there,’ I’m sure there would be a problem with that,” Smith said.
Smith also stated that he does not see the need for additional polling locations on campus as the PAC polling location will be a vote center, meaning all San Marcos voters may cast their ballots on Election Day regardless of their residential address. The PAC vote center will also be in use throughout the early voting period.
“The judge has an agenda in that he tried to set this process up for failure,” Smith said. “He’s trying to do this for a political reason, not to actually provide more access to students.”
As an organization that helped spearhead the movement for additional election day polling sites, the College Democrats’ President Trevor Newman says the Commissioners Court has been actively working against the best interests of voters on Texas State’s campus.
“For the past three election cycles the Commissioners Court continues to create problems that make it harder for students to vote on campus,” Newman said.
Newman says the members of the Court have turned the addition of polling sites into a partisan issue.
“The commissioners want to make this a Democrat versus Republican issue when that isn’t the case. This is about student voting rights and their right to have easy access to polling locations.”