AUSTIN (KXAN) — You may have voted already or plan to vote later today at local libraries, schools, a Randall’s or a Fiesta grocery store. However, there is one place where you definitely did not vote.
You won’t find any polling locations at HEB stores in Travis County. The 2014 election was the last time the supermarket chain opened its doors to voters. Yet, this voting season, some didn’t even notice.
“I had no idea HEB didn’t have any polling locations,” said Shemeka Fairconeture. “I thought they were one of the places along with Randalls.”
For others, the grocery store’s absence was noticeable.
“Before there used to be a lot, everywhere,” said Javier Maya about HEB polling locations.
The 2014 election was not the first time the supermarket chain had issues with its polling places.
Nearly 20 years ago, in 2002, a potential lawsuit against the store changed how they managed early-voting. They moved their polling sites from inside the store to their parking lots.
Behind the suit, Linda Curtis, director of IndyAustin.
“Linda Curtis was operating a business, for profit, collecting signatures,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the clerk for Travis County. “Her argument was that she had the same rights as voting to be inside the grocery store sitting right next to the voting tables. She felt that her business was the same thing as voting, and we did not believe a private business was anything at all close to the public franchise and public right to vote.”
Since 2002, the number of HEB polling sites dropped and dropped; Until two years ago, HEB pulled out completely citing traffic and safety concerns. HEB representatives said it wasn’t an easy decision to make. They had several close calls due to limited space and overcrowding in the stores parking lots — including a child almost being run over.
- 2002: 4 polling locations
- 2004: 3 polling locations
- 2006: 1 polling location
- 2008: 1 polling location
- 2010: 2 polling locations
- 2012: 1 polling location
- 2014: 1 polling location
- 2016: 0
- 2018: 0
However, that decision to pull out completely was and continues to be concerning for Austin’s NAACP President Nelson Linder who said replacing the ever-popular grocery store has been an issue.
“With HEB being there, you just see a higher number of participation,” he said. “For a lot of people voting is about accessibility and convenience, so if you diminish that you will not have an impact.
DeBeauvoir agreed and said that she stood by her comment in 2002 when she said if HEB pulled out it would have a major impact on minority populations, specifically those who live near the stores at East Seventh, Congress & Oltorf, and Ed Bluestein & Springdale and believed there would be no “adequate replacements.”
“It is still an issue,” she said. “We have difficulty finding opportunities to put early voting locations in a lot of areas around town where the infrastructure is not as developed as other areas.”
For Maya, the HEB at Ed Bluestein & Springdale in east Austin was his polling location and continues to be his number one shopping spot.
However, when it comes to his voting, Maya said, “Now, I have to go find a library or somewhere else, move up, not around here anymore.”
DeBeauvoir said she understands why HEB had to go and appreciates everything they do to contribute to the community, but she is also thankful for the other grocery chain in the area that stepped up.
“Fortunately, we do have other grocery stores in our area that have stepped up — Randalls and Fiesta,” she said.
KXAN checked and HEB does not have polling locations in San Antonio, Houston or Dallas either.
However, if HEB ever decided to open its doors again as polling locations, DeBeauvoir said, “they would be welcomed back with open arms.” She added, “with big hugs and kisses and thrilled if they would join us again.”
An HEB representative said, “We worked hard in collaboration with the County Clerk’s office to keep early-voting at our locations, but with quite possibly the busiest parking lots in town, it became logistically untenable.”
The County Clerk’s office said they, “worked with HEB to address traffic issues with signage and polling location placement. Unfortunately, these measures were not enough to mitigate traffic concerns for HEB customers and voters.”
KXAN also reached out to Randalls on its stand when it comes to election season and the chain’s stores opening its doors to voters.
Randalls Food Markets strive to be a good corporate citizen in all of the markets we serve. Travis County contacted us many years ago and ask if we would partner with them to provide voting locations – both for early voting and day of – in select Randalls stores. We have been honored to provide voting locations as a service to the citizens of Austin to provide these locations in their neighborhood Randalls stores.
There were seven Randalls stores opened across the city of Austin this election.