The University of Texas students Maya Patel and Zach Price are taking a hands-on approach this legislative session to increase the number of polling locations on college campuses in Texas.
Patel and Price wrote House Bill 375, which would require universities with more than 10,000 students to have a polling location on campus. House Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, filed the bill. Together, the trio is calling on legislators and the House elections committee to support it.
“For too many Texas students, election day polling locations are placed far away from campus, making it difficult for students to have their voices heard in the democratic process,” said Patel, a chemistry junior, at a press conference Friday at the Capitol. She and Price were joined by two dozen students from colleges and universities across Texas.
Patel and Price said they wrote the bill after they saw civic engagement increase at UT when polling locations were added to the Flawn Academic Center, and later to the Perry-Castañeda Library.
“Only seven of the 22 largest public universities in Texas have an on-campus polling location, and college students in the state of Texas do not have consistent access to polling locations, which abridges their fundamental right to vote,” Patel said.
Students who have limited access to transportation often cannot get to a polling location, especially when they are also balancing classes and jobs, Patel said.
“Universities are community centers where faculty, staff, students and members of the public come together on a daily basis, so it only makes sense to put polling locations where the people are,” Patel said.
Denying students access to the polls effectively denies them the right to vote, said Price, a government junior.
“This issue shouldn’t and can’t be partisan,” Price said at the press conference. “Contrary to the perception that the students that we’re helping here (are liberal), they aren’t liberal. They aren’t conservative. They’re everyone, and right now hundreds of thousands of them aren’t being given the right to vote.”
Hinojosa said she began working with Patel and Price to add another polling location at UT last year.
“We were really bothered by the fact that lines at UT were so long in past elections because there was only one polling place,” Hinojosa said at the press conference. “They worked hard, and they got a second polling place at UT, and in that process, they realized that there are lots of large universities all over the state that don’t even have one polling place during early voting and election day.”
Hinojosa credited Patel and Price with authoring the bill and generating its support from students across Texas, such as at UT-Dallas, UT-Arlington and the University of Houston.
“(Patel and Price) took it upon themselves to not just research this bill early, not just bring it to me, but do all the work across the state to reach out to young people, to reach out to college students, to bring them on board to advocate for this bill,” Hinojosa said.
Patel and Price said they never thought they’d be able to successfully file the bill, but Hinojosa said that’s what democracy is all about.
“All these student advocates here today are at your Capitol doing exactly what democracy calls on us to do, and that is to advocate for our rights and for what we believe should happen here at the state’s capital,” Hinojosa said.
Originally published February 24, 2019 in The Daily Texan
By Katie Balevic
Photo by Anthony Mireles