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Commissioners discuss workshop on MSC early voting site after continued support for it

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Commissioners Court MSC discussion

Texas A&M students and community members fill the Brazos County Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning as the five-member group discusses and hears public comment about the Texas A&M Memorial Student Center as an early voting location. The current early voting locations has the Precinct 3 location as College Station City Hall instead of the MSC.

Texas A&M students and community members continued the push for the Memorial Student Center to be an early voting location for the November 2022 election.

A dozen people addressed the Brazos County Commissioners Court on Tuesday in support of the group either moving the county’s Precinct 3 early voting location from the current site of College Station City Hall to the MSC or adding the MSC. City Hall is located across Texas Avenue from the university campus.

Some speakers pointed to the tens of thousands of voters who are already on campus and others pointed to the difficulty students would have to get to City Hall between their class schedules and, for some, without a car.

Texas A&M senior Kristina Samuel, president and founder of the university’s MOVE Texas chapter, said she was disappointed to see the agenda item was for 2023 instead of the November 2022 election, but urged the commissioners to consider it for both.

Samuel said as inconvenient as it was for her to be at the meeting at 10 a.m., it will be just as inconvenient for students, faculty and staff at Texas A&M to leave campus and get to City Hall to vote.

“I’m not sure if this is merely an excuse to mask a reason we have not been told, but at this point, myself and a lot of people here today are completely fed up,” she said. “We had to do our own research in order to argue for our basic entitled civic rights.”

After hearing the speakers, the commissioners all supported holding a workshop next week to discuss the MSC as an early voting location and to get accurate information. Commissioners Russ Ford, Precinct 2; Irma Cauley, Precinct 4; and Steve Aldrich, Precinct 1, noted the possibility that they may have acted on incorrect information when they voted over the summer for the current early voting locations, which does not include the MSC.

“What we’ve been told is not necessarily what the truth was,” Aldrich said, citing information conveyed to the commissioners about the need for all precincts to have the same number of polling locations. “Since that was not correct, then the assumptions that we made in being able to choose where early locations were, that was something that was erroneous.”

Aldrich said he had deferred to Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry because the MSC is located in the county’s third precinct.

“I thought that was the right way to approach this. After the public input that I’ve heard, I’m certainly aware of the fact that maybe we should’ve given this more consideration,” he said.

Berry said she appreciated students coming to the meetings, including last week’s meeting that had to be canceled due to a lack of a quorum.

“I have heard you loud and clear, and I’m in favor of the MSC location for 2023. I think it’s too late this year,” she said, because the joint election also includes the emergency services districts, Bryan and College Station city and school elections. “I’m in favor of going back to the MSC for ’23, and I am sorry that I made a mistake when I did, and I apologize. But I think we need to move forward.”

Ishika Shah, a senior at A&M, said the MSC supports students’ unusual schedules with classes and homework, saying it can be difficult to budget the time necessary to leave campus, go to an off-campus polling location and cast a ballot.

She noted all other voting locations are a 20-minute drive from the MSC and can be accessible to those who would travel to City Hall to vote.

“If non on-campus voters find the on-campus inconvenient, I suggest that you ask them to go to other early voting polls rather than asking our student population and on-campus population to figure out how they’re going to get to the polls despite so many of us having classes throughout the day and not having motor transportation to the polls,” she said. “If the argument for City Hall is that it means voting easier for voters, that is a blatant disregard for the largest population of voters you serve in Precinct 3.”

Noting the people who find places to park on or near campus during Texas A&M home football games, she said, the infrastructure is in place for campus to hold a large number of voters, compared to the City Hall parking lots.

Bianca Avery, Texas state coordinator for the Campus Vote Project and Texas A&M alumnus, said student voters struggle for “equal access” at the polls, and reminded the commissioners that student voters cannot be seen as separate from other voters.

“An MSC early voting site will serve a substantial number of voters, including students but not only students,” she said.

Jackson Bailey, a current Texas A&M student, said he is in the process of registering to vote in Brazos County because he sees himself as being a Brazos County resident for at least the next four years, not just a student.

His first time voting was in the recent primary and runoff elections, and said the process was smooth but called it a “huge ask” to make first-time college students find a way to get off campus, to City Hall and then vote when they are still getting used to college and the community. If it is a complicated process or requires too much coordination, they might just not vote, he said.

“Most likely if the freshmen do not vote in this election, they’re extremely unlikely to continue voting in future elections,” he continued. “We’re building our voting habits, and as one of my fellow citizens spoke before, how will first-time voters view this situation.”

Judy LeUnes said as a friend of each of the commissioners, she knows each of them would be standing at the podium advocating for their own children to have a convenient place to vote if that were the situation.

“Thanks for your time and service, but this was a wrong decision,” she ended. “You’re still my friends, but that this was a wrong decision.”

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