TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County Commissioners Court approved Tuesday the County Clerk’s Office expanding signage and polling machines at the University of Texas at Austin’s campus ahead of the Nov. 8 election. The measure comes after officials confirmed last week a previous polling location at the heart of UT won’t be an option for students during this November’s election.
Voters won’t be able to cast their ballots at the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL) this year.
“The PCL could not be a location because the Department of Justice has a specific agreement with Travis County that they have to be fully compliant with ADA (Americans with Disabilities) for election locations and the PCL is not apparently,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown previously said.
A spokesperson for UT said the DOJ surveyed more than 50 polling places in Travis County in March after the 2020 election. That’s what sparked the change, officials said earlier this month.
“The university was informed that exterior ramps to the PCL Plaza were anywhere from 1-2 degrees out of regulation for ADA compliance. As county officials control polling locations, UT officials respect the county’s decision to find another suitable location,” a spokesperson for UT said.
During a Travis County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday, county staff explained they had opened a new location at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Brown said it “seems like it could be Houston or Dallas for students who are walking around on campus.” County staff said unlike the PCL, that location was ADA compliant.
Elise Delifuente, an undergrad student at UT and a member of student government, said she thinks the change will impact the remaining polling location closer to the heart of campus, at the UT Flawn Academic Center (FAC). She believes students won’t walk to LBJ and that lines will grow at the FAC.
“Students don’t have time between classes to be waiting in those long lines,” Delifuente said. “We either need another polling location on campus such as Gregory Gym or more polling booths at the FAC.”
The latter is the compromise commissioners and the County Clerk’s office agreed to look into Tuesday, alongside putting signage at the PCL letting people know they couldn’t vote there this year and increasing education efforts on where voting locations are.
“What we asked them to do is to increase the number of polling machines at the FAC so that it equals the number of polling machines at the FAC and the PCL [during the 2018 election],” Brown said. “So the goal is to get 18 machines there.”
Travis County Clerk Rebecca Guerrero said there have traditionally been two polling locations on UT’s campus, and they’ve already added more machines.
“There are 15 at Flawn, LBJ will have 12 machines and then on Election Day we have Texas Hillel [Foundation] — which is one block west of the campus — and that location will have nine additional machines,” Guerrero said.
Clerk staff said they also have to take into consideration the safety and security of voters when making polling locations bigger, including limiting access through doors in and out of the location.
Meanwhile, Jen Ramos, the state democratic executive committee woman for Senate District 21, said with more than 50,000 students on campus — a population that could make up a city in itself — more needs to be done to make voting easy and accessible for those voters in the elections to come. She also pointed to other campuses in Austin where polling locations are non-existent.
“We look at places like Huston-Tillotson University and St. Edward’s University that do not have polling locations for early voting or even one polling location near an Austin Community College campus,” Ramos said.
The closest polling location to Huston-Tillotson is the Carver Branch Library location (roughly a mile away). The closest location for St. Edward’s is the South Austin Recreation Center.
“We have a new county clerk coming in, I’m excited to work with her on ways that we can make sure that voting in Travis County is as easy as possible,” Brown responded.
You can find a map and list of polling locations on the Travis County Clerk’s website.