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County mulls options to improve campus voting

Wednesday, October 12, 2022 by Seth Smalley

While the county is doubling its number of voting machines on the UT campus this year, students and advocates are still warning of long wait times, sparse transit access and a lack of polling sites (hint: there are two). On Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a measure to help smooth voting on and before election day.

“I’d like to authorize the clerk’s office to take steps necessary to increase signage, maybe at the PCL (Perry-Castañeda Library) in case people show up there, telling them where to go,” County Judge Andy Brown said.

Brown said that the clerk’s office should attempt to get 18 voting machines installed at the Flawn Academic Center.

While voting took place at PCL in previous years, it no longer does due to Department of Justice disability standards. A number of locations across the community that were once regular voting locations are now defunct due to their noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The Department of Justice in 2020 came to Travis County and said, we are investigating whether or not your voting locations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said. “And that was what started this whole thing.”

One advocate pointed out that 39 percent of the Austin-area voting bloc is between the ages of 18 and 32, the largest demographic of any voting bloc, according to 2018 data.

“In spite of this it’s become increasingly difficult for this demographic to vote,” said Jen Ramos, a political specialist for Jolt Action. She pointed out that the University of Texas, with a population of about 50,000, has only two polling locations open during early voting.

“Students don’t really have the time to be waiting in long lines in between classes,” said Elise De La Fuente, a sophomore government major at UT.

De La Fuente explained that the PCL and FAC have always been the two major voting sites on campus, but with the PCL now inoperable as a polling location, UT transitioned voting to the LBJ School of Public Affairs, which is about a mile walk from the main campus.

“Most students I know don’t have the time, energy or even know where LBJ is to be making the trek over there,” De La Fuente said.

Huston-Tillotson and St. Edward’s universities don’t have early voting polling locations, though they do have day-of voting locations.

“So I think the message we want to convey very clearly is this is not an effort to in any way limit the ability of students or the regular public to access voting places. It’s because the Department of Justice told us the standard locations in these cases that we’re talking about were not acceptable,” Shea said. “We have to do extra work to communicate to the public, including putting signs at PCL explaining we’re not allowed to have voting here but please go to these other locations.”

Editor’s Note: Andy Brown is on the board of the Capital of Texas Media Foundation, the parent nonprofit of the Austin Monitor.

Photo by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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