AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last session lawmakers passed House Bill 1888 that bans mobile polling locations. Supporters of the bill said it will make it easier for some people to vote, while Democrats are saying the bill is unconstitutional.
Now, Democrats are suing the state over the new law, but what exactly are mobile polling locations, and what did Texas voters lose?
Mobile polling locations allow election officials to take voting equipment to rural areas or places like nursing and retirement homes where a permanent location would be too expensive.
Democrats claim this will harm voter turnout in Texas by affecting college students and Texans over 65 years old.
Several Austin Community College campuses used to be mobile polling locations, and Dr. Molly Beth Malcolm said their student voting numbers went up between 2014 and 2018 from about 31% to about 66%.
However, this election the polling locations will not be there, and Malcolm said their students and faculty are very concerned about it.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Travis County had 61 mobile voting locations that cost less than $50,000 to run. DeBeauvoir said it would cost nearly $1 million to convert all of those locations into permanent voting spots.
Representative Greg Bonnen filed the bill in the 2015 sessions, but it did not pass until the most recent session. He wanted to stop the abuse of the system, like in school bond elections.
It was in response to a particular bond election at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD near Houston. Critics said that mobile polling locations gave an advantage to voters who supported the bond.
“Typically this would occur during school activities where it’s anticipated there would be significant number of parents and teachers present who would be supportive of the bond measure,” Bonnen said.
Before the bill was passed, Bonnen said it would actually help Texas voters.
“Additionally, HB 1888 will deter confusion by establishing that polling locations remain at a single accessible place throughout the early voting period,” Bonnen said. “The predictability in polling places following the implementation of this bill would provide reliability and accessibility for all voters.”
However, Representative Celia Israel said the bill is voter suppression, and it’s going against the grain of what mobile voting is intended to be.
“Mobile voting is intended to be flexible,” Israel said. “What’s the problem that we’re trying to fix here? If there is a problem with some locals, as we heard in committee with some school districts, then take it up with the school district.”