Hays County extends early voting at three polling sites after threat of litigation over student access to polls

After the Texas Civil Rights Project threatened to sue Hays County unless it extended early voting at Texas State University, commissioners unanimously voted at an emergency meeting Friday to extend early voting at three sites.

Texas State University's polling location, which is in Precinct 3, will now be open Nov. 1-2 from 7 a.m.-7p.m. They also extended early voting for the same dates and time at the Live Oak Health Center and the Belterra Community Center, which are in Precincts 1 and 4, respectively. Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell said the court added polling sites in three precincts to maintain a balance of voting opportunities throughout the county.

Additionally, the commissioners made the LBJ Student Center at Texas State an Election Day voting site. Shell said this is the first time that Texas State will be open for voting on Election Day because in the past there had not been more than 500 registered voters in the precinct. He said this year there are approximately 1,200 voters registered in the precinct.

Shell said commissioners received over 1,000 emails from concerned citizens asking for early voting extensions.

“I want everyone to know and understand that we are doing our best,” Shell said. “We are following the laws and trying to allow the opportunity for all to vote in the most efficient manner possible.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said it was never the county’s intention to suppress votes.

The call for extended early voting came after 5,518 people cast their ballots Thursday, bringing the number of early votes as of Thursday to 24,922—far surpassing the 6,149 votes cast in the first four days of early voting in the 2014 midterm election. Shell said this year’s early voter turnout is unprecedented for Hays County.

Erin Zwiener, Texas House District 45 candidate, told Community Impact Newspaper that extended access to early voting at Texas State is important because there was a surge of students submitting voter registration applications in the few days before the deadline. Every application has to be manually processed by election office staff, so not all of the registrations are in the system yet.

“Because of that backlog in voter registration applications, many students have not received their yellow voter registration cards, so they don’t know what precinct they’re in,” Zwiener said. “And look at the maps— San Marcos precincts are sliced and diced a million different ways. So, it’s going to be really hard for them to identify where they’re supposed to vote the day of.”

Hays County residents who are registered to vote may do so at any polling location in the county during early voting, but they must vote in their specific precinct on Election Day.

“To me, the thing that’s so telling about the issues with voting at the LBJ Student Center is that that location operated at full capacity for three days straight,” Zwiener said. “There was never a moment when there wasn’t a wait. The demand is there. Every other location that has had those type of numbers has at least 11 days of voting. Not three.”

Kyle City Council Member Daphne Tenorio told Community Impact Newspaper that there was no way officials could have known there would be such unprecedented early voter turnout, but now that it has happened the county should make accommodations. Tenorio said she doesn’t believe the county had malicious intent when making the early voting schedule in August, as they modeled it based on turnout in previous years.

“We had to get to the point where somebody threatened to sue, and that was kind of disappointing,” Tenorio said. “But I applaud the effort the Commissioners Court is making to try to rectify it.”

City of San Marcos and the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, or CARTS, will provide free bus service for students with a Texas State ID to and from polling places during early voting and election day at the request of Hays County, according to the release.

Voters can get to know the candidates up for election and find their nearest early voting site by reviewing Community Impact Newspaper’s voter’s guide.