County extended early voting on campus following community uproar

Commissioners+Lon+Shell+and+Ray+Whisenant+return+from+executive+session+and+take+their+seats.

Commissioners Lon Shell and Ray Whisenant return from executive session and take their seats.
Photo by Kaiti Evans

Kaiti Evans

The story was updated Oct. 30 to reflect new information.

Following hour-long voting lines and the threat of a lawsuit, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Oct. 26 at an emergency meeting to extend early voting hours on campus.

As lines wrapped around the LBJ Student Center’s construction, students, faculty and staff waited hours to participate in early voting on campus, which was open Oct. 22-24 from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. The three-day stint of early voting was inundated with unanticipated voters, as Hays County reported record-breaking voting numbers.

On the first day of early voting, Hays County reported among the highest percentage of registered voter turnout out of Texas Counties. Early voting records for Oct. 29, the eighth day of early voting, report Hays County has had 134,403 early voters, totaling at 34.36 percent of the total registered voters. For the 2014 midterm elections, on the eighth day of early voting, there were 10,790 early voters, totaling at 9.88 percent of the total registered voters at the time.

Currently, 134,403 residents are registered to vote in Hays County – compared to 106,581 in 2014 and 121,326 in 2016.

Graphic by McKenna Strain

After the Commissioners Court deliberation, a unanimous vote concluded the early voting hours would be extended at Precinct 1, 3 and 4, which includes the on-campus LBJ Student Center polling place. All precincts received two extra early voting opportunities. Polling locations will be re-open Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

In response to a high student turnout, democratic candidates originally urged Hays County commissioners to extend early voting days at Texas State by sending a letter to the commission asking for extended days and hours from Oct. 30 through Nov. 2, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

After the letter from democratic candidates was sent, an email screenshot from North Hays GOP President Wally Kinney was released on social media asking Hays County Republicans to oppose the extension of early voting on campus.

“To change the schedule in the middle of the election is in my opinion wrong,” Kinney said in an email statement. “Since there was no apparent emergency, I urged my colleagues to oppose this change. Therefore not only is there no voter suppression but there is more than ample opportunities for people in Hays County to vote – especially students who have much more flexible schedules than those voters who work 8 to 5.”

In a letter to the court, Texas Civil Rights Project stated they would file a lawsuit if the on-campus polling location was not re-opened for all early voting days, which lasts from Oct. 22 through Nov. 2. The letter stated the court had until noon Oct. 26 to make the changes or a lawsuit would be filed.

Precinct Three Commissioner and Republican incumbent candidate Lon Shell said voter suppression was a misunderstanding. Shell said the polling locations were set in early August and gave an allotted amount of days and times for early voting. Due to the potential lawsuit and over 1,000 emails the court received, Shell said he hopes to amend the limitations for the polling location on Texas State’s campus.

“We have had a massive response, obviously, and an amazing turnout of a lot of registration toward the end of the registration period,” Shell said. “You know, the voting we’ve seen across the county is very exciting. I spent two days on campus during early voting talking to students and it’s amazing how engaged they are and how concerned they are.”

San Marcos resident David Crowell attended the meeting and asked if he could address the court but was denied as the court went into executive session without public comment. Once the commissioners had gone into executive session, Crowell stood up and delivered his speech on the Commissioners Court’s duty to provide voting opportunities.

“There may be some effort afoot to not have students to vote,” Crowell said. “It is kind of coincidental, I believe, that we have a Commissioner’s Court here that is four Republicans and one Democrat.”

Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said the commissioners made an appropriate decision.

“Well, we provided it for the entire county, so we just hope everyone goes out and votes,” Ingalsbe said.

For more information about when and where to vote at Texas State, visit their voter registration and information website.

News Editor Sandra Sadek contributed to this story.


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