Hays County rejects 2nd polling location at Texas State campus for November election

Democrats on the Hays County Commissioners Court failed to win over a Republican commissioner in a weekslong battle for another campus polling site. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)
Democrats on the Hays County Commissioners Court failed to win over a Republican commissioner in a weekslong battle for another campus polling site. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)

Democrats on the Hays County Commissioners Court failed to win over a Republican commissioner in a weekslong battle for another campus polling site. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)

Three weeks of animated debate on the Hays County Commissioners Court dais and dozens of public comments proved fruitless for Democrats in a battle for a second polling location on the Texas State University campus for the Nov. 3 election.

On Aug. 25, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 against an additional polling site located at the Student Recreation Center, with County Judge Ruben Becerra and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, both Democrats, dissenting.

"The Texas State community deserves full and safe access to the polls on campus without the stress of waiting in long lines for hours or fear and anxiety of overcrowding in the middle of a global pandemic," said Evan Bookman, a student representative of the Black Presidents Council, NAACP and Black Men United at Texas State University. "I was a freshman during the last presidential election. ... Voting on campus has been exciting, but it's also been very time consuming and stressful."

Proportionally, Hays County was the second-most narrow race among Texas counties in the 2016 presidential election with 46.9% of voters casting ballots in favor of Donald Trump and 46% in favor of Hillary Clinton, a split of 602 ballots, according to Hays County.

According to Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, Texas State reported 7,000 students would live on campus this fall, more than enough voters to swing the county in either direction.


During the midterm election in November 2018, 542 Election Day ballots were cast in election Precinct 334, which encompasses both the proposed rec center polling location and the approved polling site at the Performing Arts Center, according to the county.

Democrats handily won that precinct in 2018, with 969 of 1,212 votes.

Shell, a Republican, voted against adding the additional polling location within his district.

At the Commissioners Court meeting Aug. 25, Bob Parks, the chair of the Hays County Republican Party, spoke of garbled communication between the court, advisory committees and county election administration, leading to him missing a meeting on voting sites.

"I would have expressed to the Citizens Election Advisory Committee that I absolutely opposed any additional voting centers in this county—we have plenty," Jacobs said during public comments Aug. 25, before contesting accounts of long wait times at campus polling sites during the last election. "If you look at the number of votes cast at the LBJ Center, it doesn't make sense."

According to Election Administrator Jennifer Anderson, the campus has been the county's fifth- or sixth-busiest polling location in the past.

The LBJ Student Center, centrally located on campus, served as the university's single voting location in previous elections but was removed due to coronavirus concerns.

In 2018, the Texas Civil Rights Project, MOVE Texas and the League of Women Voters of Hays County threatened the county with a lawsuit after hundreds of students waited an hour and a half to vote each day, the TCRP stated.

The Performing Art Center's location on the edge of both campus and the election precinct gave rise to concerns of reduced voter turnout and even allegations of voter suppression.

Because Hays is a vote center county, people may cast ballots at any of the county's polling stations so long as they are registered to vote within the county. However, that does not solve the problem for voters without stable access to transportation.

"I understand and appreciate what the [public commenter] said about getting someone in the car to take an Uber ride to a [polling] location ... referenced to as a poll tax," Becerra said. "That's fair. That's a good assessment, and I agree."

Republican Precinct 4 Commissioner Walt Smith argued it would be unfair to add an additional voting location to only one precinct and complained of his district being underserved in that regard, although he claimed to have spent more time searching for potential polling locations than the rest of the court.

Becerra responded by saying he would have supported additional polling locations in any district that requested them.

Campus voters will need to make do with an additional check-in line and additional voting booths at the Performing Art Center this November.

"With two check-in lines at that location, we know it will help keep the flow moving efficiently," Anderson said in an Aug. 26 press release. "The more voters utilize early voting, the faster the lines will move on Election Day."
By Warren Brown
Warren joined Community Impact at the beginning of 2020 as the editor of its New Braunfels paper and now reports the news in San Marcos, Buda and Kyle. Warren previously wrote for the Dallas Observer and Fort Worth Weekly and he brings a passion for truth and equality to his reporting.


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