State Rep. Carrie Isaac introduced a bill last month to prohibit counties from placing polling places on college campuses. The Republican lawmaker claims the bill will make college campuses safer, but students and voting rights groups disagree.
In mid-February, Isaac, who represents Comal and part of Hays counties, filed House Bill 2390. The measure would ban Texas colleges and universities from hosting public voting centers during election season. As per the news “I don’t think it’s wise, we’re inviting people to come on to our school campuses that would otherwise not have any business there,” Isaac said. I think we should do everything we can to keep our campuses safe.
Isaac will also propose banning polling places on K-12 campuses. She acted after hearing from school safety-concerned parents.
College students say the bill would disenfranchise them if passed. Texas State University junior Adriana Montoya doesn’t buy the safety argument. She claimed that school safety was unrelated. “Student voter suppression.” Montoya, president of her campus’s College Democrats group, said she thinks it’s hypocritical for a Republican to say banning polling places will keep college students safe after the same party passed a campus carry bill in 2015.
“It seems that they’re okay with guns on campuses, but polling sites is where they draw the line,” she said. Isaac was elected to Texas House District 73 in 2022. Texas State senior Joan Burd does not think campus voting centers are unsafe. Four-year Hays County election clerk Burd
“I have not felt unsafe in my years working here on the college polling location,” she said. College students feel safest voting on campus, according to Burd. “There are also a lot of young people who are queer, who have disabilities, or who have mental health issues, and a polling location is a safe place on campus,” she said. “Many of these people don’t feel safe going out into San Marcos because it’s a new area, but the campus is relatively safe.”
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Montoya and Burd said Isaac’s legislation would make student voting harder. They said many lack cars and struggle to vote between classes. Montoya added that making students figure out how to vote off-campus creates an unnecessary barrier.
Texas Democrats posted a Tweet about State Rep. Carrie Isaac that she wants to ban polling places on college campuses. You can see the tweet below.
When Rep. Carrie Isaac lost in 2020 prior to redistricting, it was largely due to the vote of Texas State University students.
Now, she wants to ban polling places on Texas college campuses.
Coincidence? We think not. #txlege pic.twitter.com/of4C1TWFmV
— Texas Democrats (@texasdemocrats) February 22, 2023
Democracy shouldn’t be complicated. “You should not have to figure out how to participate in your government,” she said. “Easy and accessible,” Isaac said her legislation would not make voting harder for students. She suggested busing students to off-campus polling locations.
“I have complete faith in our young adults to vote no matter where the polling location is,” she said. “You can remove poll sites from college campuses for any reason, but probably you don’t want college students voting.”
Voters Tomorrow spokesperson Jack Lobel.
Texas State students fought for campus voting access. In 2018, the Republican-controlled Hays County Commissioners Court limited campus early voting to three days. After voting rights groups threatened to sue, they reopened the polls. 38,000+ students attended the university.
Texas State is growing, so Montoya suggested adding polling sites rather than removing them. Last fall, 7,573 freshmen enrolled, up 14% from the year before. “I think we need to talk about multiple voting locations, not just one and definitely not zero,” she said. State Rep.
Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, has filed legislation this session to require counties to put polling locations on campuses with 8,000 or more students, unlike Isaac’s bill. Montoya said young people, especially young people of color, are growing in Texas. “It’s essential that these people who are responsible for Texas’s growth are able to have a voice,” she said. “Because we’re left with it.”
HB 2390 May Be Litigated.
Voting rights groups are opposing Isaac’s college polling place ban. If her bill passes in Texas, Gen Z-focused nonpartisan group Voters of Tomorrow will sue. “Voters of Tomorrow is prepared to take legal action if this bill becomes a law because it’s a clear violation of young people’s voting rights,” said spokesperson Jack Lobel.
Isaac’s law was “outrageous.” “You can remove poll sites from college campuses for any reason, but probably you don’t want college students voting,” he said. The Texas Civil Rights Project is following HB 2390 this session. “I want to be clear that this bill is not about student safety, but about denying students the right to vote,” said Voting Rights Outreach Coordinator Miguel Rivera.
If state lawmakers pass it, the Texas Civil Rights Project will fight it. He said Texas State and Texas A&M students want more polling places on campus. Last year, Texas A&M students accused Brazos County commissioners of voter suppression after they moved early voting from the Memorial Student Center to City Hall, according to the Texas Tribune.
“Seeing the movement that students have had on Texas State’s campus, on Texas A&M’s campus, and across the state is very indicative of where students’ desires are legislatively and how much they differ from what’s being filed by our leaders,” Rivera said.
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How Would The Bill Affect County Election Officials?
Travis County Clerk Dyana Limon-Mercado says college campuses and public schools are convenient and well-known polling places. Travis County, which borders Hays County and houses UT Austin, had 38 K-12 and four college polling locations in November 2022.
“Our K-12 schools are largely neighborhood-based and are generally fairly well known in the community, easily accessible in terms of street access, disability access, and the amount of space and electricity required to house a polling location,” Limon-Mercado said.
She added that students and staff can easily access college campuses. Travis County’s four college polling places had 15,617 early voters in November. 3,548 more voted there on Election Day. Democrat Limon-Mercado believes HB 2390 disenfranchises young voters.
“We as a country should encourage young people who are inheriting the future of our state to have a voice in the policies that are shaping our state,” she said.
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