Travis County Commissioners extend early voting hours at polling locations

Those who struggled with more restricted voting hours at certain locations in Austin got some good news, Sunday.

The Travis County Commissioner’s Court voted unanimously to extend early voting hours at the five locations that have had limited hours in the past.

Most of the county's 25 polling locations for early voting are open from 7 a.m - 7 p.m. However, five locations have been dealing with restricted hours for several years now, most of them in East Austin. That has led to concerns that minority voters have unequal access to polling locations.

Lonnie Limon said he went to his normal polling place Tuesday morning at 6:45 a.m. to cast a ballot, but come 7:00 a.m. he and other people hoping to vote couldn't get inside.

“We realized that all four of us were waiting at about 7:10. Went online and saw the County Clerk’s office and saw that they hadn’t opened yet,” said Limon. 

The polling location Limon was hoping to use didn't open until 12 p.m., a big difference from most of the other 25 polling locations which stay open 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon- 6 p.m. Sunday.

“Pretty much if you lose a working class voter between the hours of 7 and 9, you've lost them for the day,” Limon said. 

Instead, East Austin locations, including the Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center, Carver Branch Library and the Ruiz Branch Library all open at either 10 a.m. or noon Monday - Saturday and close completely Sunday.

The Howson Branch Library in West Austin and the Austin Area Urban League also has more-restrictive hours.

“You could lose that morning vote and, unless we go out and get the voters, you could potentially lose anywhere from 500-800 votes which could hurt a potential candidate,” Limon said. 
               
Sunday, the Travis County Commissioner's Court voted to make uniform hours at all voting locations in Austin.

“We have their assurance that from henceforth the budget cuts for the libraries and other places will no longer apply to elections,” said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.  

The only problem- there's a 72-hour delay after the Commissioners vote goes into effect. That means hours will be updated for only the final two days of early voting.

“The only thing we can say about that is at least from henceforth we won't have to deal with the budget cutbacks again and the last two days of early voting are the heaviest,” said DeBeauvoir.

Limon hopes that anyone who couldn't vote because of the restricted hours will get the chance to at the end of the week.

“There are a lot of community members who have stepped up to go door-to-door to bring people out, so maybe we won't see the effect because we made the change to adapt, but we shouldn't have to,” Limon said.

They won't have to next time. In fact, this should be the last election where voting hours are more restrictive at certain polling locations in Austin.

The move to keep those five polling locations open longer will cost the county about $10,000.

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