Voter Equity: A Priority for Me

Image mural saying 'Vote'

August 19, 2019

"I'm focusing on the national elections," is a phrase I've heard periodically making 9,000 calls to voters and canvassing over 1,500 Democratic primary voting households in my campaign for Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3.

I plan to knock on 20,000 doors by the primary and 35,000 by the general. After knocking on a total of 55,000 doors, I don't want all of those voters to hit a bottleneck at the polling places.

If we don't have voting equity, the best campaigns in America won't get through the door.

MIT's Election and Data Science Lab recommends 30 minutes as the longest wait time to vote as best practices.

There was a 3 hour wait to vote last November at UT. How do I know? I was there, volunteering for Julie Oliver's Congressional campaign.

Other college campuses had no polling place at all.

Waiting in line to vote costs money.

In 2012, Americans lost $544 million dollars waiting in line to vote. (Waiting in Line to Vote, Charles Stewart III, Stephen Ansolabehere, U.S. Election Assistance Commission)

Students, many of whom hold down multiple jobs, hourly wage earners and many others can't afford this kind of wait.

When you disenfranchise students and working class wage earners, it corrodes the fairness of elections up and down the ballot, from School Board to President.

The county plays a direct role in elections because they set out and staff the polling sites.

When the Texas Legislature passed HB 1735 in 2017, they killed mobile voting locations. This was a big blow to voter equity. The bill mandated that polling places must stay in place for a minimum of eight hours. That meant counties could no longer move them, as needed. Essentially ambulances gave way to hospitals or nothing.

On January 2, 2019, the Texas Secretary of State issued an Election Advisory to County Clerks and Elections Administrators outlining methodology for determining where countywide polling places should be located. The advisory states, "Some factors to consider in this process include: availability of public transportation to a polling location, population size near the polling location, and availability of a suitable building for a polling place."

Low income communities and rural communities are in danger of being left out because they lack these factors.

The advisory continues, "In addition, the establishment of polling places under the program should not result in the dilution of voting strength or representation of any group covered by the federal Voting Rights Act."

President Barack Obama created the bipartisan Presidential Commission of Election Administration after the 2012 election to deal with long lines at the polls.

The Commission found that long lines undermine confidence in the fairness of elections. They further found that in states with long lines, even if individuals in those sates did not wait in long lines themselves, they still lost confidence in the fairness of elections. (Improving The Voter Experience: Reducing Polling Place Wait Times by Measuring Lines and Managing Polling Place Resources, Presidential Commission of Election Administration, April 27, 2018)

I have spoken personally with young voters who say there is a big problem. I personally witnessed the 3-hour lines at UT last November.

In 2020, with the new voting machines and our concurrent learning curve, larger than ever voter turnout predicted and no straight ticket voting, it is more important than ever to work for voter equity.

As your next Travis County Commissioner of Precinct 3, I will have 20% of the vote on all county-wide issues. The ability for every voter to vote in 30 minutes or less - not an average of 30 minutes, but 30 minutes or less for each voter, will be a priority for me.

Sheri Soltes, J.D.
Democratic Candidate for Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 3