Editor's note: This story was updated to include a comment from Eanes ISD.
Residents living in the Westlake area have reported frustration after they say Travis County failed to establish an early-voting location within the area.
Travis County commissioners met March 23 to set early-voting and election day locations ahead of the May 1 election. Residents will have the opportunity to vote early from April 19-27 at 18 polling locations, which will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. April 19-24 and April 26-27 and from noon-6 p.m. on April 25.
However, a location in West Lake Hills or nearby Rollingwood was absent from the list, which has left residents, including Jennifer Stevens, concerned about voting access.
Stevens said she and a group of roughly a dozen residents reached out to Travis County officials March 22 in an effort to establish an early-voting location prior to the commissioners' meeting the following day.
Still, Stevens said by the time residents were made aware of the potential list of locations, it was roughly 5 p.m. the night before it was set for county approval.
Anecdotally, Stevens said she was aware of organizations within the community willing to serve as polling locations—Riverbend Church off the Capital of Texas Hwy. being one of them. In the past, entities such as the United Methodist Church or Eanes ISD have served as either early-voting or election day locations.
“Access to voting is something I think we all value,” Stevens told Community Impact Newspaper, adding it was unfortunate that commissioners moved forward without working to secure a location in the city.
Commissioners, including Ann Howard, who serves Precinct 3, acknowledged these concerns during the March 23 meeting.
“People especially are concerned about no early polling places in the Westlake area. I've done some math on mileage, and they're just 4 miles from House Park [Stadium], which has lots of parking on Lamar,” Howard said.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Brigid Shea also addressed EISD’s decision not to serve as a voting location, which she said was related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many of the schools don’t want to have voting places in there for public health reasons. I think it’s important for the record to show this was not any effort by outsiders to limit people’s access to polling places. This was at the request of the school district,” Shea said.
EISD said in an email to Community Impact Newspaper that the district does not determine polling locations within the community and the approval process is done solely by county commissioners.
Still, Howard said she was happy the Westlake community was eager to vote on city propositions and the local ISD election.
Residents will have the opportunity to vote in the EISD trustees election May 1, along with several special election propositions within the city of Austin.
EISD places 4 and 5, which are at-large positions, will appear on the ballot. Stevens, an EISD resident, is running for Place 5.
Howard also addressed apparent confusion regarding the ability to vote outside of one’s place of residence in Travis County.
Stevens also spoke to these misunderstandings within the community. She said residents have reached out regarding where they can vote come April 19 and whether those without students in the district are eligible to vote in ISD elections.
“So just be reminded that you can vote anywhere that’s convenient to you throughout the community,” Howard said during the commissioner’s meeting.
EISD residents can still vote in their local trustee election at a polling location outside of West Lake Hills.
Moving forward, Stevens said she would like to see the county eliminate obstacles that would discourage residents from casting their ballot.