You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

breaking news

Travis County D.A. pursuing charges in 2013 officer-involved shooting

Herman: Texas lawmakers want to move away from mobile polling places


A Republican-led effort at the Capitol would do away with the places where 22,934 Travis County residents cast their ballots in last November’s general election.

That’s just under 5 percent of all votes cast in the county. But before you knee-jerk react to Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines and blast his Senate Bill 703 as just another GOP voter suppression effort, let’s hear him out and see if this makes any sense.

The bill is a bit tough to follow (at least for me), and Huffines acknowledges it might need some tweaking but his goal is clear and clearly delineated in the bill’s caption: “Relating to prohibiting movable early voting polling places.”

STAY ON TOP OF THE NEWS: Click here to sign up for our Breaking News emails

Many counties use those to make voting as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. So where’s the downside? Huffines says it’s not that movable polling places can move, it’s to where they’re moved.

“What we’re trying to solve is manipulation of the result of an election by moving the polling location to benefit one side or the other,” he said.

He’s particularly suspicious about school district bond elections. He claims school officials, seeking approval for bonds for a new football stadium, have put mobile early voting places at the old stadium on Friday nights, eager to connect with fans who’d like a new stadium.

“When you move the mobile polling booth to the football stadium on Friday nights, that does seem to have an impact on the election results,” Huffines said, offering no examples but adding: “There’s no question they do it.”

Nope, says Texas Association of School Boards spokesman Dax Gonzalez, whose organization opposes the bill.

“I don’t have data on where districts place mobile voting stations, but I would think districts are being smart and efficient in putting locations where large numbers of people gather,” he said. “In many communities across the state, Friday night football games would be a smart choice for reaching voters. And just because they’re watching football doesn’t mean they want to raise their property taxes to do so.”

State Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, this week filed HB 1773, which, among other things, would require all early voting locations in any election that includes bond issues or tax hikes to remain at the same locations throughout the early voting period. The bill also says a tax increase or bond election would be void “unless more than 25 percent of the registered voters” show up.

I went back to Huffines for clarification when I found out that what Travis County calls “mobile” early voting places might be different than the “movable” early voting places targeted in his bill. Travis County sets up temporary early voting places — in addition to permanent ones — at various locations for a day or several days. The “mobile” early voting places are put in permanent buildings — recreation centers, senior citizen facilities, state office buildings, outlying areas, etc. — not in trailers or trucks that are moved around.

Huffines said his intention — though the bill says polling places “may not be located in a movable structure” — is to ban all temporary early voting places, including those in permanent buildings, such as the ones in which 22,934 Travis County voters cast ballots last November.

“I do not want polling locations moving around that might influence the outcome of an election, one way or the other,” he said, adding that temporary early voting places in permanent buildings could be problematic depending on “who’s making the decision, what building they’re going to be in and who’s in the building.”

“I’m not making the assumption those voters wouldn’t vote otherwise,” he said. “I’m thinking these folks would still vote. I want them to vote.”

The League of Women Voters of Texas, ever watchful for efforts to make it more difficult to vote, believes SB 703 would do just that.

“At the core of our existence is the belief that every Texas citizen should be able to participate in our democracy with his or her vote,” said Cinde Weatherby of Austin, the group’s voting rights and elections issues chair. “Research I’ve seen has shown that the No. 1 reason given by those who don’t vote is ‘I don’t have the time.’ The mobile voting process addresses that directly.”

And Weatherby added: “To my knowledge we have not observed any negatives related to offering mobile voting locations, other than there being a demand for more of it.”

But the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, in September offered testimony to the House Committee on Elections to the contrary. James Quintero, director of the foundation’s Center for Local Governance, said lawmakers should end “rolling polling.”

“This practice, either intentionally or unintentionally, is far too susceptible to abuse,” Quintero testified, “allowing for local officials to target certain voting populations to achieve a predetermined outcome.”

The foundation hasn’t taken a position on the Huffines bill.

Michael Winn, Travis County director of elections, said mobile early voting places are “a great benefit” for voters. He said the county isn’t ready to take an official position on Huffines’ bill, “but I think it would have an impact on our process.”

And he doesn’t mean a positive impact.

In last November’s general election, Travis County had 91 mobile voting locations at various times during the 12 days of early voting. That includes some that returned to various locations multiple times. The locations included recreation centers, state office buildings, senior citizen facilities and some in outlying areas.

Would banning mobile early voting places make it more difficult for some folks to vote?

“Most definitely,” Winn said. “It would cause an impact on the process.”

No doubt. I’m open to hearing more about this, but, absent more solid evidence of abuse of the current system, SB 703 sure sounds like an overkill response.

That seems to be popular these days.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: The nightmare of the North Korea-Trump standoff

President Donald Trump is scary in many ways, but perhaps the most frightening nightmare is of him blundering into a new Korean war. It would begin because the present approach of leaning on China to pressure North Korea will likely fail. Trump will grow angry at public snickering at the emptiness of his threats. At some point, U.S. intelligence will...
Letters to the editor: April 27, 2017
Letters to the editor: April 27, 2017

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams launched an attack on consumer financial protection by attempting to block an important rule for prepaid debit cards. The rule, issued in October by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, provides safeguards for those who use prepaid cards to make purchases and manage their money. In addition to protections against loss...
Nowrasteh: SB4 aimed at ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ is wrong for Texas
Nowrasteh: SB4 aimed at ‘sanctuary jurisdictions’ is wrong for Texas

President Trump’s focus on immigration enforcement has filtered down to the state-level in Texas. The State Senate passed Sen. Charles Perry’s (R-Lubbock) controversial bill, Senate Bill 4, in February. SB4 would penalize every so-called “sanctuary jurisdiction,” which includes cities, counties and universities who do not honor...
Misguided faith in government is unlearned lesson of LA riots

This weekend marks 100 days of the Trump administration. This milestone also coincides with a very important anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, riots exploded in Los Angeles after four policemen were acquitted in the violent beating of Rodney King. Sixty-three lives were lost in the riots, with the estimated total economic cost pegged at $1 billion...
U.S. Rep. Williams: CHOICE Act would have toughest penalties for fraud
U.S. Rep. Williams: CHOICE Act would have toughest penalties for fraud

Economists at a prominent think tank based in Washington, D.C. last week reported that a full repeal of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act would boost the economy by 1 percent and generate $340 billion in federal revenue over a 10-year period. Dodd-Frank, as it is called for short, was passed by the Democrat controlled Congress...
More Stories