Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
The Brazos County Commissioners Court has decided to take no action on bringing back the on-campus early-voting location at Texas A&M University for the 2022 elections, despite admitting that they made a mistake in removing the site at last week’s meeting.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners heard from College Station and Bryan officials who expressed that they support having early voting at the Memorial Student Center — but not for this year. They said it would be logistically difficult to accommodate a change back to the on-campus site now because the cities have already prepared notices and materials for College Station City Hall as the early voting location. Tanya Smith, College Station’s city secretary, added that the change would cost additional money that the city hasn’t budgeted for.
“Rushing causes mistakes,” Smith said. “Let’s wait until the next election year.”
Commissioners Irma Cauley and Nancy Berry said at the meeting they are in favor of bringing the student center site back for 2023. When reached by The Texas Tribune on Monday evening, Berry had said she would support reinstating it for 2022 if it’s logistically possible.
Commissioner Steve Aldrich, who had requested that the discussion about reinstating the student center location for this year be put on Tuesday’s agenda, did not attend the meeting in protest of the tax rate vote. Commissioner Russ Ford, who had stated at last week’s meeting that he supports reopening the site for 2022, also was not present for the same reason.
The no-action vote passed without much debate amongst the present commissioners, and audience members were not allowed to provide input.
“You’re disenfranchising thousands of campus community members,” said a person in the crowd.
This vote is the latest update in A&M students’ monthslong fight against the county’s removal of the early-voting site — a decision students say would suppress the youth vote.
“Whether they realize it or not, it is voter suppression,” said Kristina Samuel, a senior and president of MOVE Texas A&M, a nonpartisan group that works to increase voting access on campus.
Voting FAQ: 2022 midterms
How do I know if I'm registered to vote?
The deadline to register to vote in the 2022 primary election was Oct. 11. Check if you’re registered to vote here.
When can I vote?
Election day is Nov. 8. Early voting ended Nov. 4.
How do I know if I qualify to vote by mail?
This option is fairly limited in Texas. You’re allowed to vote by mail only if: You will be 65 or older by Election Day, you will not be in your county for the entire span of voting, including early voting, you cite a sickness or disability that prevents you from voting in person without needing personal assistance or without the likelihood of injuring your health, you’re expected to give birth within three weeks before or after Election Day or you are confined in jail but otherwise eligible (i.e., not convicted of a felony).
Are polling locations the same on election day as they are during early voting?
Not always. You’ll want to check for open polling locations with your local elections office before you head out to vote. Additionally, you can confirm with your county elections office whether election day voting is restricted to locations in your designated precinct or if you can cast a ballot at any polling place.
How can I find which polling places are near me?
County election offices are supposed to post on their websites information on polling locations for Election Day and during the early-voting period by Oct. 18. The secretary of state’s website will also have information on polling locations closer to the start of voting. However, polling locations may change, so be sure to check your county’s election website before going to vote.
What form of ID do I need to bring to vote?
You’ll need one of seven types of valid photo ID to vote in Texas: A state driver’s license, a Texas election identification certificate, a Texas personal identification card, a Texas license to carry a handgun, a U.S. military ID card with a personal photo, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a personal photo or a U.S. passport. Voters can still cast votes without those IDs if they sign a form swearing that they have a “reasonable impediment” from obtaining a proper photo ID or use a provisional ballot. Find more details here.
What can I do if I have trouble voting?
You can contact your county elections official or call the Texas Secretary of State's helpline at 1-800-252-VOTE (8683). A coalition of voting rights groups is also helping voters navigate election concerns through the 866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683) voter-protection helpline. The coalition also has hotlines available in other languages and for Texans with disabilities.
Commissioners voted 4-1 on July 5 to move the early-voting location for Precinct 3 — in which the university is located — from the campus to City Hall, though there will still be a polling location at the MSC on Election Day. Berry, who oversees the precinct, cited complaints from nonstudent voters about difficulties navigating the campus and low turnout at the MSC as reasons for the change. The Texas Tribune has requested data for early-voting turnout in recent elections, but did not receive the information by late Monday.
Student pushback to the decision on early voting was initially tepid because many students were away for the summer, though Democratic Party Chair Amy Alge and Republican Party Chair Elianor Vessali did express support for keeping the MSC prior to the vote. The momentum picked up in August after The Battalion, the student newspaper at A&M, reported on the change.
In meeting after meeting at the Commissioners Court, students testified that the MSC’s central location allows them not only to more easily vote between classes but also help others become aware of the elections in the first place. The off-campus site, however, would require many to squeeze a 30-minute walk each way into their already busy schedule. And for those who drive, they would have to sit in traffic and navigate a parking lot that is smaller than what is available to them at the MSC. A petition in support of an MSC location, which was started four weeks ago, also currently has more than 1,400 signatures.
“We just know that this is going to de-incentivize students a lot, and voter turnout will be lower if we don’t do something about it,” Samuel said.
Texas A&M in College Station, the largest university in Texas, has around 70,000 students — a figure that is over half of the city’s population and about one-third of Brazos County’s. And according to data from The New York Times, the ZIP code containing the MSC voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election while city hall’s skewed Republican.
What you can expect from our elections coverage
How we explain voting
We explain the voting process with election-specific voter guides to help Texans learn what is on the ballot and how to vote. We interview voters, election administrators and election law experts so that we can explain the process, barriers to participation and what happens after the vote is over and the counting begins. Read more here.
How readers inform our work
Instead of letting only politicians set the agenda, we talk to voters and scrutinize polling data to understand ordinary Texans’ top concerns. Our readers’ questions and needs help inform our priorities. We want to hear from readers: What do you better want to understand about the election process in Texas? If local, state or congressional elected officials were to successfully address one issue right now, what would you want it to be? What’s at stake for you this election cycle? If we’re missing something, this is your chance to tell us.
How we hold officials accountable
We do not merely recount what politicians say, but focus on what they do (or fail to do) for the Texans they represent. We aim to provide historical, legal and other kinds of context so readers can understand and engage with an issue. Reporting on efforts that make voting and engaging in our democracy harder is a pillar of our accountability work. Read more here.
How we choose what races to cover
We aren’t able to closely cover all 150 races in the Texas House, 31 in the Texas Senate or 38 for the Texas delegation in the next U.S. House. We need to choose what races we cover closely by using our best judgment of what’s most noteworthy. We take into account factors like power, equity, interest and competitiveness in order to determine what warrants more resources and attention. Read more here.
How we cover misinformation
In reporting on falsehoods and exaggerations, we clearly explain why it is untrue and how it may harm Texans. Sometimes, we choose to not write about misinformation because that can help amplify it. We’re more likely to debunk falsehoods when they are spread by elected officials or used as a justification for policy decisions. Read more here.
This fight for students’ voting access is not rare. This year, Bexar County initially planned to limit early-voting locations before facing pushback from students and other community members. The county has since added five more sites, according to Community Impact. Those sites include locations at Our Lady of the Lake University, St. Mary’s University and Texas A&M University-San Antonio campuses.
The fight is also not new. In 2018, students at Prairie View A&M — a historically Black university that has a long legacy of fighting for voting rights — sued Waller County over allegations that it was suppressing their votes by not opening a poll on campus or in the city itself for most of early voting. This move prompted the county to expand some access two days later, though a federal judge would rule in 2022 that the students had not been discriminated against in this voting process.
Another legal challenge also almost arose in 2018 in Hays County as students at Texas State University at San Marcos alleged that the county was suppressing their votes by restricting early voting on campus. Following this threat, Hays County quickly increased students’ access for voting before and during Election Day.
“It’s a sense of Groundhog Day because we’ve been here before with trying to protect the student vote via campus polling locations, and then a sense of Whac-A-Mole because we’ve yet to see a set of policies that would protect them long term,” said Alex Birnel, advocacy director of MOVE Texas.
In response to the backlash at A&M this year, some Brazos County commissioners initially wanted to reopen MSC as the second early-voting location for Precinct 3. But a misinterpretation of the state’s election code — as Aldrich pointed out in the Sept. 20 meeting — led the court to believe that it would also have to open a second location in all other precincts. That would have added challenges related to cost and poll worker availability.
County officials also repeatedly told advocates since August that it was too late to change the location logistically — despite it being legal to do so — due to various reasons including the resulting need to update ballots and the involvement of local elections. Early voting runs from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, and Election Day is on November 8.
“I’m in favor of going back to the MSC for ’23, and I’m sorry that I made the mistake when I did and I apologize,” Berry said at the Sept. 20 meeting. “But I think we need to move forward.”
Other commissioners, however, raised concerns about how they have been misinformed throughout the process.
“We heard testimony that we can change it this year and then we heard other testimony that we can’t change this year, so again we’ve got misinformation,” said Ford, who was the sole vote against the change in July, said in the same September meeting.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting to reconsider the MSC early-voting location, Birnel said MOVE Texas and other voting rights organizations are keeping litigation in their toolkit, but he would much more prefer building relationships with local and state governments to engage the youth vote.
“We’d love to see counties create the kind of infrastructure that makes democracy possible and also as a public good,” he said.
Similarly, Samuel said her organization has been looking into possible legal actions, but she noted that the chapter is also “not waiting until the last minute to find an alternate method” like a bus that could transport students directly from MSC to City Hall. And even without the current challenge to reopen the MSC, Samuel said she knew this election cycle would be significant because it is the first major one following the passage of Texas’ Senate Bill 1, which curtails various local voting access initiatives.
“It’s definitely made this a lot more emotionally heightened and definitely energized us,” Samuel said. “There’s a lot at stake here.”
Disclosure: MOVE Texas, Texas A&M University and The New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.