By ALEX WUKMAN
One question Tarrant County Commissioners and the areas’ college chancellors are asking themselves this week is, “What’s the out-of-pocket for democracy?”
This latest round of soul searching comes after the county eliminated the majority of its college campus early voting locations weeks before this year’s state Constitutional Amendment election.
The county hasn’t announced any plans to reinstate the shuttered polling stations before the 2020 election.
The reduction in the number of early voting locations means that students at schools like TCU and UT-Arlington will have to go elsewhere to vote, which could affect voter turnout.
In previous elections, county personnel would set up mobile early voting locations at campuses for three or four days — these temporary polling places proved to be rather popular.
During the 2018 election, college campuses like TCU and UT-Arlington accounted for more than 11,000 votes cast in Tarrant County. County commissioners claim that they closed the campus polling locations in order to comply with a new state law.
House Bill 1888, which went into effect Sept. 1, requires that all early voting locations be open for the entire 12-day early voting period.
Tarrant County’s elections administrator Heider Garcia has said that his office doesn’t have the funds to staff locations at TCU, the University of North Texas medical school and four of the five Tarrant County College campuses.
Though the county offers 40 other early voting locations within its borders, reducing the number of early voting locations at the campuses above all but guarantees that college students will have a more difficult time voting in this year’s elections.
Along with the Constitutional Amendments, Tarrant County residents are being asked to vote in 16 elections municipal elections, including passing judgment on eight education bonds.
One of the bonds on the ballot is an $825 million package put forward by Tarrant County College.
In order to ensure that TCC students have a say in the future of their school, the college is paying $52,500 for 12 days of voting at its five main campuses. And while TCC’s decision to pick up the tab for democracy is admirable, the school shouldn’t be on the hook for the funds—the idea that a county with a $680 million annual budget can’t find $63,000 to pay for early voting sites is a bit ridiculous.
Tarrant County spends $360,000 per year on its mailroom, but elections administrator Garcia claims he can’t afford to pay for early voting locations on college campuses.
Additionally, the fact that Garcia should have to look for money is itself an indictment of the County’s leadership. This law wasn’t passed in the middle of night and instituted the next day.
Tarrant County commissioners have known since Gov. Greg Abbott signed H.B. 1888 in June that early voting locations would be affected. The commissioners have also had plenty of time to find a way to fund these locations.
Like most governmental agencies in Texas, Tarrant County’s fiscal year began on Sept. 1. For two months, the commissioners were appropriating funds and didn’t set anything aside for these polling locations.
Yes, H.B. 1888 makes it a little more expensive to keep early voting locations open, but it’s disingenuous for Garcia to claim that these locations were closed solely because of a state law.
The state law requires the county to pay to keep those polling locations open for 12 days, and Tarrant County’s decision to put $589,348 into parking lot maintenance instead of keeping those polling locations open is reprehensible.