Across Texas, early voting for this November’s elections is happening right now. But mobile voting locations, like those sometimes found on college campuses are mostly absent, because of a new law passed during the 2019 legislative session. Texas Democrats are now suing the state over the effective elimination of temporary or mobile early voting sites, alleging unconstitutional discrimination against young voters.
Brandon Rottinghaus is a political science professor at the University of Houston. He says Democrats argue that mobile voting “harvests” voters who wouldn’t otherwise cast ballots, and provides opportunities for people who can’t get to fixed voting locations. Republicans who passed the bill that eliminated most mobile polling places say it’s an anti-fraud measure, and that harvesting voters in this way “games the system” by encouraging particular groups of people to vote.
“It’s the harvesting aspect that’s key here,” Rottinghaus says. “Republicans have cued in on this – the expectation that they can ferret out some illegal voting.”
Mobile polling places tend to be smaller than typical early voting locations, and they’re often set up for just a portion of the early voting period, often on college campuses and senior living facilities. Rottinghaus says their presence leads to higher turnout. And that matters in Texas, where turnout is usually quite low.
“All the scholarship that we have on voting shows that if you reduce the cost of voting – things like travel time or information cost… – people will vote,” Rottinghaus says.
Rottinghaus says that once people begin voting, they keep doing it.
From a legal perspective, Rottinghaus believes the conflict over how and where people can vote will continue to be an important one, especially in Texas.
“This is going to be the next generation of the civil rights battles in Texas,” Rottinghaus says. “It’s been about gerrymandering, voter IDs. The next will be about access to polling locations.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.