AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have filed a lawsuit to overturn a new law they say ends mobile voting sites and ultimately harms voter turnout.
House Bill 1888, filed by Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, requires temporary branch polling places to be open on the days that main early voting polling places are open. They must remain open for at least eight hours each day or three hours each day if the city or county clerk does not serve as the early voting clerk for the territory holding the election and the territory has fewer than 1,000 registered voters.
A bill analysis for HB 1888 states the legislation sought to address concerns that “some authorities accommodate certain voting populations to the exclusion of others” with the flexibility to move polling stations during an early voting period.
During a March 2019 committee hearing, Bonnen said the most common example of where the use of mobile voting was abused was in school bond elections, where voting machines would be taken to school facilities.
“Typically, this would occur during school activities where it’s anticipated there would be a significant number of parents and teachers present who would be supportive of the bond measure,” he told legislators.
The Texas Democratic Party is challenging this law, saying because HB 1888 effectively bans mobile early voting, young Texans living on or near college campuses won’t have as many early voting opportunities.
“All Texas voters are similarly situated and should have equal access to early voting, which Texas law provides,” the lawsuit states. “Yet, under HB 1888, thousands of voters who were previously able to rely on and vote at temporary voting sites are treated differently. HB 1888 now mandates that, based on where they live, some voters will enjoy the same consistent access to early voting they had previously, but voters who live near now-defunct temporary voting sites, especially young voters, will suffer reduced or eliminated access to the franchise. Because of HB 1888, many young, including newly-registered, first-time Texas voters who live on or near college and university campuses that once housed temporary voting locations will be denied an opportunity to equal access to early voting compared with those who live near permanent early voting locations.”
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says the few bad actors who misused mobile voting don’t represent the whole state.
“While that might have been true of a couple of school districts, it certainly wasn’t true here in Travis County and certainly wasn’t true of everybody else – the cities, the parties themselves didn’t mistreat mobile voting,” she said.
Travis County once had 61 mobile voting sites and DeBeauvoir says it cost less than $50,000 to operate them. If the county were to make those locations permanent, it would cost nearly $1 million.
Molly Beth Malcolm, Austin Community College’s executive vice president of operations and public affairs, credits an increase in student voter turnout because ACC’s various campuses previously served as mobile voting sites.
“Our student voting went up between 2014 and 2018 from 31.2 percent to 65.7 percent,” she said.
“Our faculty are very concerned about [the new law] and our students are as well,” she added.
Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs, who was sworn in on August 19, is listed as the defendant. Spokespersons from both Hughs and Bonnen’s offices could not be immediately reached for comment.