Politics & Government

11,000 college votes turned Tarrant County purple in 2018. Now campus voting may end.

More than 11,000 votes were cast on local college campuses like UT Arlington and TCU last year — many for Democrats.

Now, county officials have no plans to offer college voting sites for the 2020 election.

Unless extra money is added to the Tarrant County budget, giant campuses like UT Arlington and Tarrant County College will not have campus voting locations, elections administrator Heider Garcia said last week.

County Judge Glen Whitley, a Hurst Republican and UTA graduate, said he wants to have an early-voting location at that campus and “I feel certain that we will.”

But in a county showing off $10 million in new machines, the list of about 40 early voting sites in 2020 tentatively would not include TCU, the University of North Texas medical school or four of the five Tarrant County College campuses. Only TCC Southeast would have a voting site.

The change is partly the result of a new state law.

Frustrated that some school districts got away with setting up pop-up voting locations at football games or PTA meetings to draw bond voters, the Texas Legislature voted to require full hours for all early voting locations.

Most local colleges only hosted voting three or four days of the 12-day election period. Now, if they can get an early-voting location at all, the colleges will have to host voting all 12 days.

At TCU, one of the busier campus locations, 2,562 ballots in four days were cast by voters who will have to find somewhere else to go.

At UTA, the total was 2,862. TCC’s Northeast and Northwest campuses each drew more than 1,000 voters.

To explain why this is important to both parties, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke only won Tarrant County by about 4,300 votes over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

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County Commissioner Devan Allen is the first Democrat in 34 years to represent Arlington. Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

Tarrant County Commissioner Devan Allen, an Arlington Democrat, brought attention to the early-voting list last week.

First, she asked why UTA isn’t an early-voting site voting for the obscure off-year election beginning Oct. 21 and ending on Election Day, Nov. 5.

(On the ballot: an $825 million Tarrant County College bond election and a $966 million Arlington school bond election, among other local offices and state and local propositions. For this election, all TCC campuses will host voting, and the college is paying the $52,500 cost, Garcia said.)

For 2020, “We have to make some tough decisions, and obviously numbers come into play,” Allen said.

“But I do know it’s important to have as many folks in our community as possible get engaged in each election. ... At (TCC) Southeast, I’ve heard from students and faculty it’s important.”

Garcia, nearing the end of his second year as the county elections chief, said he hasn’t even looked at possible 2020 early voting locations but has money in his budget for about the usual 40, not including any college locations to replace the pop-ups.

“This is a 2020 discussion,” he said: “Do we increase the cost of our elections to make these six (college) sites permanent?”

The change in state law, not some local decision, has made the future of local college campus voting uncertain, he said.

“Just understand,” he said, “it’s going to impact my budget.”

If it bothers you that the Republican Texas Legislature and Republican county commissioners made it tougher for college students to be heard, there is one simple course of action:

Vote.

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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.
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