Three important polling places were available to students on Election Day in 2012 that will not be available for this year’s election. On that day, a cumulative 1,890 residents voted in the student-dense precincts 313, 277 and 274. It is vital that students familiarize themselves with the new voting structure to know where they can and cannot vote Nov. 4.
Since the 2012 presidential election, the voting process has changed in Travis County. Previously, a select few polling stations were open for early voting where anyone could vote. Many more opened on Election Day, but voters were restricted to voting in their designated precinct. In the past 18 months, the county has switched to a “vote center” model. In this model, a few polling stations were consolidated, but more stations are available through early voting to Election Day, and on Election Day citizens can vote at any vote center convenient to them. According to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, this model allows the county to keep open polling places located at retail and grocery destinations that are more convenient for voters.
What this means for students living in West Campus, however, is that the polling stations previously located at the North Lamar Senior Activity Center, the First English Lutheran Church and the University Co-op have been consolidated with neighboring precinct vote centers and will not be available come Nov. 4. The closest vote centers for Election Day are the Flawn Academic Center on campus, Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus at 12th and Rio Grande streets and Baker Center on 38th Street. DeBeauvoir said the combined centers will have more individual voting booths to accommodate the additional voters. While there were other consolidations throughout the county, these three are clustered in the UT community, and we think the consolidations disproportionately affect the student population.
In light of this change, we urge Longhorns to overcome the negative habit ubiquitous among the student population: procrastination. Come Election Day, the most convenient polling place for students living in West Campus will be the FAC. While two of the three combined precincts have accommodations made at other vote centers, familiarity and convenience will undoubtedly draw most students to the campus vote center. Since residents are no longer restricted to their designated precinct, this particular polling location will become overrun with students who waited until the last minute. While the lines may not be as long as they were in 2012, a presidential election year, long lines would significantly deter voting.
The solution is simple: Avoid the lines and vote early, at the FAC between classes or at the center of your choice. We applaud the flexibility of this new voting model, but it is vital that students are familiar with their options and take advantage of early voting while it is available.