SAN ANTONIO – A new state bill proposes a mandated number of polling sites each election cycle on public college campuses.
State Sen. Jose Menendez filed Senate Bill 408 to bridge what he calls a voting equality gap and the need to make voting more accessible to a younger population of Texans.
The idea came from the students themselves. Menendez said his office received calls from students all over the state during the last election, saying they didn’t have any or enough polling locations on their campuses.
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Amber Mills just graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington in December.
“My very first election to vote in was in 2016, in which I voted on a college campus, as well as in the 2020 election because it was there and it was convenient,” Mills said. “A lot of students, they don’t have transportation to get off campus, they don’t have time in between classes or homework or their job to get to a polling location,” Mills said.
Her passion for politics landed her a job at MOVE Texas, a nonprofit educating and engaging young and underprivileged voters.
The organization is working with Menendez’s team.
“I would like to designate two locations on a campus if a school has at least 10,000 students, and we’re requiring an additional poll for every additional 10,000,” Menendez said.
He gave the example of UT Austin, with more than 50,000 undergrads alone. He said the main campus only had two polling locations. Under this law, it would need at least six.
Mills said UT Arlington, with a total enrollment of almost 50,000, only had one polling location. Under the new bill, it would have to have at least five.
“I do have some friends, for example, that went to the University of North Texas, and they don’t have an on-campus polling location. I know there’s a good chance they didn’t vote,” Mills said.
Mills hopes the bill will help mandate consistent polling sites for every election, big and small.
“There might be a midterm election where there’s not a polling location, and then turn around and the presidential one -- it’s there, or the municipal or constitutional amendment, it’s not there,” Mills said.
Both Mills and Menendez referred to voting as a habit, saying easier access will foster that habit in the younger Texas electorate.
“On election day, every vote is the same, no matter who it comes from. Whether it comes from a wealthy campaign donor or a new 18-year-old voter, every vote counts the same, and that’s the strength that people need to realize they have,” Menendez said.