Other Voices: Unintended? Clampdown on polling places has more impact than imagined

In what may have or may not have been a case of unintended consequences, some Texans have suddenly found it more difficult to cast their vote after a new election law effectively brought about an end to the practice of moving temporary polling places during the early voting period.

Following a worry on the part of lawmakers regarding the perception of “selective harvesting” of favorable votes, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1888. The measure was sponsored by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), who, according to The Texas Tribune, offered it as a solution to do away with temporary voting sites. The new measure requires sites to remain open for the entirety of the early voting period.

The original contention over the selectiveness of courting voters surfaced as a result of school bond elections, but the measure passed by the Legislature includes all elections. While few may be fretting the impact upon the current constitutional amendment election, there are concerns regarding the November 2020 general election as repercussions are expected to have an impact on both major political parties.

“The flexibility of polling locations was designed to accommodate more voters near their homes or workplaces, but some subdivisions of the state have abused this flexibility and targeted desirable voting populations at the exclusion of others,” the Tribune reported, quoting Bonnen in a meeting of the House Elections Committee.

Bonnen said his measure would not cause counties to close or do away with temporary polling places. They would just have to be open throughout early voting.

As the Tribune reported, the measure sparked pushback. The state’s Democratic party sought an exemption for November general elections, and the Texas Association of Election Administrators warned the change would have serious impact on future use of such sites, the majority of which would incur too great an expense to remain open throughout the early voting period. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law shortly after the end of the session last May.

According to election officials, the nearness of a ballot box can make all the difference in participation rates from the voting public. Statistics indicate people are much more likely to vote if the polling place is within reasonable walking distance.

“The best way to look at it is that previous to HB 1888, each county had the discretion to work toward what was best in serving its entire community,” Remi Garza, elections administrator for Cameron County, told the Tribune. “The one size fits all makes it extremely difficult.”

Counties are working to find the best solution, but they are battling a multifront challenge. Besides cost, many counties simply don’t have the manpower to handle the staffing demands required. There’s also the logistical challenge of finding space for eight hours of daily voting over a 12-day span.

The result will be consolidated polling places with many locations no longer being as convenient for large populations of college students just getting engaged with the political process and senior citizens who typically are the most reliable when it comes to voting.

While the effort to curb abuses in the temporary voting system was well-intentioned, the result may have deeper consequences in 2020 than anyone might have imagined.

Today's Bible verse

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

— Titus 2:11

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