Texas revises rules for temporary early voting sites

A new Texas law being challenged in federal court ends the practice of mobile voting and establishes new requirements for temporary branch polling places used in early voting.

HB 1888 by G. Bonnen, which took effect September 1, 2019, requires all temporary branch polling places to be open in a fixed location for at least eight hours on the days that main early voting polling places are open. These requirements are relaxed for certain rural areas a temporary polling place has to be open only for at least three hours per day if the city or county clerk does not serve as the early voting clerk for the territory holding the election and the territory has fewer than 1,000 registered voters. Before the new law, local election administrators generally could set up and operate a temporary branch polling place during early voting for a select number of hours and days and move it to different locations.

Since HB 1888 took effect, local election administrators no longer may move a temporary branch polling place or operate it for limited times during early voting.

Supporters of the bill said that it would help combat vote harvesting, in which mobile voting sites are strategically placed in locations where those likely to support a particular election outcome live or that they may frequent. An example of vote harvesting offered by proponents of HB 1888 is the placing of voting sites on or near a school campus for a school bond election.

Supporters said requiring temporary polling places to remain open for longer hours and on more days during early voting would make it possible for more people to cast ballots.  They also said that requiring uniform times and locations for temporary branch polling places would reduce confusion about when and where such polling places were open, making it easier for more people to vote.

Critics said the bill would limit voter turnout because mobile polling places allowed election officials to reach more voters across a wider geographic area, including the elderly, college students, and others who may lack regular access to transportation. If the goal of HB 1888 was to prevent selective vote harvesting during school bond elections, critics said, the bill should have targeted just those contests and not all elections.

Critics also said requiring temporary polling places to remain open in a single location for the entire early voting period could be financially prohibitive. Local officials might forgo temporary polling sites altogether due to cost and worker shortages, they said.

Civil lawsuits challenging HB 1888 were filed in 2019 against the Texas Secretary of State in the U.S. District Court in Austin by national and Texas Democratic Party organizations contending that the bill creates an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right of young and elderly voters to exercise their right to vote.

By Andrew McNair

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