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Campus early voting window insufficient for midterm student turnout

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Main Point illustration

Editor’s Note (10/30):

Since the initial online posting of this Main Point on Thursday, Oct. 25, students, faculty and candidates voiced their concerns to the county and received a preferable answer. The Hays County Commissioners’ Court voted last Friday to extend the temporary early voting location on campus to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 1 and 2.

The County Commissioners have also included an Election Day polling place on campus for the voting precinct which contains on-campus dorms. Previously, this precinct’s polling place was off-campus.

Several candidates have also funded a free shuttle to take students to vote at the Hays County Government Center, which is open to early voting every day until Nov. 2.

The editorial board approves of all of these measures and believes it will help facilitate voter turnout, alleviate the issues with polling from the previous week and ultimately better represent San Marcos in the Texas State Government, Hays County, San Marcos local government and U.S. Congress.

The rest of the Main Point is presented as it appeared Thursday, Oct. 25, prior to the changes in policy.

Texas State served as an early voting location from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22 to Wednesday, Oct. 24—a mere three days. During these days, students, staff and faculty cast more than 1,000 ballots per day and waited nearly two hours at times for the privilege.

The amount of time allotted was not sufficient for the voter turnout in this election. The polling place in the LBJ Student Center experienced more votes in a three day period than most other polling places in Hays County experience in the entirety of early voting, which lasts two weeks. If any polling place should operate for a full two weeks, it should be the institution with a student enrollment of nearly 40,000 and a sizable faculty as well.

When wait times are long, voters are more likely to be disheartened. During this three day period, students and faculty alike have class, work, meetings and a commute. A break between classes may not be enough to cast a ballot if wait times are exceeding an hour or more. Younger students on campus are exceptionally vulnerable to this because if the three days allotted are packed and the chance to vote in the congested student center polls passes, transportation to the other polling places is dubious at best. Not every student has a car and the campus buses do not have routes to the polls.

The location of the polls in the LBJ Student Center is made difficult by the construction. Fewer entrances and complicated walking paths make it harder for students to find the polling area. Compounded with cold and rainy weather, it’s understandable why some potential voters would postpone their duty if they can’t physically get there.

Thankfully, failing to turn up to the polls is not the problem this year. In the past, the current setup was acceptable because student voter turnout was manageable. However, a record amount of Bobcats are registered to vote and turned out to the polls to exercise their civic duty. What was once good enough for campus early voting is not enough this year.

To remedy this, several public officials have called to extend campus early voting. Student Government Vice President Alison Castillo announced in an email last Wednesday that the situation was not sufficient and called on the county to extend the early voting days on campus, citing Student Government’s commitment to fostering a civically engaged student body. Additionally, San Marcos City Council candidate Joca Marquez, U.S. House candidate Joseph Kopser and State Representative candidate Erin Zwiener have publicly endorsed extending campus early voting.

Extending campus early voting is not a huge feat in terms of resources and cost. The county could certainly make it happen if they wanted. If public officials are calling for it and a student voter turnout lends legitimacy to the request, then the county has a responsibility to ensure more people can vote. To do otherwise is voter suppression.

To say what is happening is voter suppression is not just a conspiracy theory. North Hays County GOP President Wally Kinney urged constituents in an email to call County Commissioner Mark Jones and urge Jones to not extend the campus voting times because it would benefit Democrats.

“If we are to change the rules in the middle of the game, it favors Democrats and we sure don’t want to do that in this—what is going to be—a close election as it is…” Kinney said.

The success of current early voting resources should not be dependent on a lackluster turnout or party affiliation. Bobcats have committed to the ballot. The county should too.

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