Amid allegations of voter suppression, Hays County Commissioners Friday unanimously approved to extend early voting at three sites, including the LBJ Student Center at Texas State University, during a special called meeting.
In addition to scheduled earling voting sites, early voting will take place Nov. 1-2 at the Live Oak Health Center (Precinct 1), LBJ Student Center (Precinct 3) and the Belterra Welcome Center (Precinct 4).
The decision to add polling locations at all three sites came after concerns from commissioners about being balanced in their approach to adding voter locations.
Lon Shell, Hays County Pct. 3 commissioner, said he was not initially comfortable with the idea of adding a polling location only at Texas State University, as requested by Democratic leaders in a letter to the county. After a lengthy discussion in executive session, Shell said he was pleased to reach a conclusion that was not biased towards one precinct or the other.
Due to an influx of over 1,200 registered voters from Texas State University, the LBJ Student Center will now host a new polling location on Election Day, a decision that required at least 500 registered voters, a feat that was unprecedented in previous elections.
“It was never the intention of the county to suppress any votes and we are encouraged that we have seen so many folks come out to vote,” said Debbie Ingalsbe, Hays County Pct. 1 commissioner. “We’re very proud of that.”
Shell said the issue of voter suppression was not evident during the days of early voting at Texas State, where the Hays Free Press reported waiting lines of around 2 hours for students.
“This is not an issue of voter suppression, absolutely not,” Shell said. “We expected high voter turnout, and that did not come into play. It’s unfortunate to see this issue turn partisan.”
Shell said without the lawsuit threats, the special meeting would not have been possible, as a 72-hour notice is required to schedule a meeting under normal circumstances.
As per state law, a five-day notice must be issued in the paper of record before newly granted polls could open, which is the reason why the polling sites will not be operational until Nov. 1.
Commissioners did not comment as to how much the addition of new polling sites would cost Hays County, but said the county has enough polling workers to make the new locations run functionally.
Their decision came after the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), on behalf of two Texas State students, the MOVE Texas Action Fund and the League of Women Voters Hays County, sent a letter to officials demanding the county reopen the on-campus polling site in order to avoid litigation.
During the first days of early voting, students at Texas State were forced to wait in lines at the LBJ Student Center that exceeded two hours in length. The issue drew outcry from various Hays County and Central Texas Democrats who claimed voter suppression.
Furor over the issue grew Thursday when Wally Kinney, president of the North Hays Republican Group, called for residents to email Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones to share dissent on the possibility of extending early voting at the on-campus site.
According to a TCRP press release, the county’s “failure to extend the time for a temporary early voting location on campus is against the law,” citing it violates the U.S Constitution and the Texas Election Code. The TCRP gave Hays County officials a deadline of noon Oct. 26 for a response.
Ryan Seidel, a Texas State University student, could not vote during early voting at the university, despite trying to stay in line to vote before being forced to leave to attend class. Seidel said the site only had four machines set up, which he believed did not accommodate the student population.
“Somehow, the school or the county ignored the fact that LBJ (Student Center) is currently under construction so half the building is closed down and it’s just ridiculous that this was the polling location,” Seidel said.