A group of local young adult organizers delivered a presentation Tuesday morning urging the Brazos County Commissioners Court to add another voting location on or adjacent to the Texas A&M University campus with the hope of increasing students’ voting options for the Nov. 3 general election and beyond.
Texas A&M students Amy Ramos, Raven Atkinson and Frankie Alamos gave the remote presentation on behalf of a number of local groups, including A&M’s chapter of Texas Rising, an organization dedicated to increasing civic engagement among people ages 18-29.
The speakers cited high voter turnout in the 2018 midterms and long wait times at the Memorial Student Center in the March 3 primary as an indication that young voters in the county and the state are participating in greater numbers. They expressed concern about the potential effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and accompanying distancing measures and health safety procedures — on wait times.
“We want to try and make sure that a second polling location is an option so lines can be shortened and voter turnout can be increased,” Atkinson said. “We can’t afford to have long wait times that potentially lower the turnout of young people in Brazos County. We need to be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”
Brazos County currently has 25 day-of voting locations for November’s election, the same number as in 2018.
The group put forth the idea of Annenberg Presidential Conference Center as a potential additional location because of its accessibility by bus for students and because it has ample parking nearby. They said they have not received clear guidance on how to proceed but want to engage further with local officials; Brazos County general counsel Bruce Erratt approached the microphone following their presentation and urged the group to call him to discuss potential next steps.
Brazos County Elections Administrator Trudy Hancock told The Eagle on March 4 that the last voter at the MSC cast their primary ballot at 9:05 p.m. March 3, more than two hours after polls officially closed. Voters are allowed to cast ballots if they are in line by 7 p.m. In March’s primary, eight county polling locations had more than 1,000 voters cast ballots.
After the meeting, Hancock said in an interview that College Station City Hall and the Lincoln Center are within 3 miles of the MSC, and that many students live off campus and drive in. At the start of the 2019 school year, about 11,000 students lived on the A&M campus, The Eagle reported, out of nearly 60,000 students at the flagship campus. Hancock articulated a preference for working to streamline the current structure.
“It’s not just finding a location but staffing that. Especially during a pandemic, we’re already going to be short-staffed, so to add another location — that’s another factor,” Hancock said. “I would rather staff that location really well with seasoned workers who can facilitate a quick in-and-out as opposed to opening another location and not being able to staff it adequately, which could cause additional problems.”
In a Zoom interview after the presentation, Ramos and Alamos pointed out that not all students have cars, and that many students and non-students alike cannot wait in long lines because of their schedules.
Ivy Major-McDowall, regional coordinator for Texas Rising, participated in a support role.
“Texas A&M students are a part of the community. They are voters and they are constituents,” Major-McDowall said Tuesday afternoon. “If students have the access, they will do it.”
For the March 3 primary, the unofficial voter turnout was 32,122 of 116,753 registered voters in Brazos County, or 27.51%. Of those, 18,890 people voted on Election Day at one of 25 locations.
In 2016, 68,448 of 106,821 registered voters cast ballots in Brazos County, including early and absentee voting.
Following the group’s presentation and during the meeting, County Judge Duane Peters thanked the presenters and then lifted up the county’s change to allow voters to cast ballots at any location in the county rather than at one specific precinct.
“We took that action several years ago to make it easier for people actually go vote,” Peters said. “It’s not just creating a location — there are a number of issues that would have to be addressed to even do it.”
Peters then said his hope was that students would take advantage of the Lincoln Center and City Hall, among other locations, as well as early voting.
In November, the MSC will be one of five early voting locations. Hancock said that on Election Day, on-campus voting will move to Rudder Tower, where 18 voting machines will be used. The Texas A&M College of Medicine, located in Bryan west of Easterwood Airport, is also a new Election Day-only voting location.