New state law prohibits mobile voting, causes 'substantial' loss to Travis County

Mobile voting locations were used to reach rural, senior and student voters. These campaign signs were posted on The University of Texas at Austin campus during the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Mobile voting locations were used to reach rural, senior and student voters. These campaign signs were posted on The University of Texas at Austin campus during the 2018 gubernatorial election.

A new state law that took effect Sept. 1 and prohibits the use of temporary polling places will hinder voter turnout in Travis County, local officials said.

“Our loss is substantial,” Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “This was an inexpensive, cost-effective way to meet a lot of rural voters where we didn’t have enough voter density to justify a full-time polling location.”

In use since at least 2000, mobile voting—the use of temporary polling places during the early voting period—had grown into a robust program in Travis County.

During the 2018 gubernatorial elections, there were 61 mobile voting locations, most of which catered to rural residents and senior communities. During the 2016 presidential election, there were 68 such locations.

“[W]e can make a limited number of mobile early voting teams more effective by moving them around to extend the franchise to more voters than we would be able to using limited resources,” wrote Ronald Morgan, Travis County deputy county clerk, in testimony submitted to the Senate State Affairs Committee in May.

State Rep. Greg Bonnen sponsored the law, which he told members of the House elections committee was intended to prevent the abuse of mobile voting locations, particularly during school bond elections when temporary polls would sometimes be set up on school campuses as a way to boost turnout.

But local officials and advocates urged state lawmakers to rewrite the bill to focus on the issue of school bond elections while preserving mobile voting.

“We inevitably have territories and areas on the fringes of the county that don’t fiscally warrant a full-time early voting site,” said Chris Davis, Texas Association of Elections Administrators legislative liaison, to members of the House elections committee March 11.

Travis County was able to offer 61 mobile voting sites in 2018 for around $50,000, DeBeauvoir said. To comply with the new law and turn all of those sites into full-time polling locations would cost the county $1 million, per an analysis DeBeauvoir’s office conducted.

State Democrats raised concerns that the law was intended to suppress voter turnout.

“Republicans know Texas is changing; that’s why they’re trying to change the rules to make it harder for seniors, the disability community, college students, rural Texans and survivors of natural disasters to cast their ballot,” said Manny Garcia, Texas Democratic Party executive director, in a May 22 statement.

The Nov. 5 election is the first one since the law took effect.

In response, Travis County has introduced two new early voting locations to serve rural voters in the western and southeastern parts of the county and also expanded its mega polling centers to include the Millennium Youth Complex and Ben Hur Shrine Center.

“It’s very difficult to replace this program,” DeBeauvoir said. “In fact, it’s not replaceable.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify who sponsored the bill.


The Vortex Theater off Manor Road in Central Austin has been under threat of closure due to skyrocketing real estate prices.
Music, arts communities asked to provide feedback on spending recommendations for $12 million creative space bond

After roughly a year of deliberation, the Austin's Music Commission and Art Commission have drafted criteria for how to spend the money aimed at addressing the city's rapid loss of affordable creative space.

Heart Hospital of Austin on Nov. 21 announced Megan Drake as its new chief operating officer. (Courtesy Heart Hospital of Austin)
Heart Hospital of Austin lands new COO

Heart Hospital of Austin announced Megan Drake as its new chief operating officer.

(Courtesy Larry French/Getty Images for DSW and W Nail Bar)
W Nail Bar is now open in Sunset Valley

A new nail studio has opened in Sunset Valley.

Austin FC will begin play in 2021.
Austin FC continues filling front office positions, brings on former USMNT captain as sporting director

Austin FC announced Nov. 21 it has hired former USMNT captain Claudio Reyna as its first sporting director.

Single-family home sales set a record in October despite a historically low supply. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin home sales hit October record despite all-time low supply

Continued high demand amid low supply belies the housing crisis in Austin and the need for meaningful policy changes, experts said.

Downtown Austin facing northwest
Now in City Council's hands, land code rewrite debate heats up with first vote less than 3 weeks away

Some Austin City Council members are concerned about the speed at which the process is moving.

Austin ISD's new elementary school is being built at the southeast of the intersection of Trissino Drive and Escarpment Boulevard. (Rendering courtesy Austin ISD)
Kiker Principal David Crissy named principal of new Southwest Elementary School

Kiker Elementary School Principal David Crissy has been named the principal of the new Southwest Elementary School.

Local artist Billy “Briks” Jewkes created a mural is on the outside wall at The Collective South Congress over the summer as work on the South Austin development was being completed. (Courtesy The Collective South Austin)
The Collective South Congress finishes build-out as more tenants join development

The Collective South Congress offers warehouse space for a wide range of tenants in South Austin.

Apple's Mac Pro computers are assembled at a manufacturing plant in Northwest Austin. (Courtesy Apple)
Apple breaks ground on $1 billion, 3 million-square-foot campus in Northwest Austin; expects to open facility in 2022

Apple announces construction begins on $1 billion, 3 million-square-foot campus in Northwest Austin

Sunset Valley City Council welcomed two new members and thanked two who are retiring from council for their service. From left are: New Council Members Karen Medicus and Wanda Reetz, Council Member Melissa Gonzales, Mayor Rose Cardona, retiring Council Members Ketan Kharod and Marc Bruner, re-elected Council Member Rudi Rosengarten and Council Member Phil Ellett. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Sunset Valley welcomes new council members amid city staffing transitions

New Sunset Valley city council members joined the dais Nov. 19, amid a month of city staffing transitions.

A rendering of the proposed Walnut Springs Elementary School.
Architects unveil plans for new Walnut Springs Elementary School facility to Dripping Spring ISD trustees

Representatives from architecture firm Corgan presented plans for a new Walnut Springs Elementary School facility Nov. 18.

A photo of Kyle Landry.
St. David's South Austin Medical Center names Kyle Landry new chief operating officer

Kyle Landry has assumed the COO position at St. David's South Austing Medical Center.

Back to top