Alongside efforts to increase voting access for young people on college campuses, our Texas Young Advocates promoted the implementation of campus polling stations at higher education institutions with more than 10,000 students. The advocates contributed to a civic engagement advocacy day in which they spoke publicly about their campus voting experiences and the importance of voting access for college students. Natalie Ferguson, one of our Texas advocates, talks about the importance of the bill and why it could help students across Texas make sure their voices are heard at the ballot box. Check out more reflections from our young advocates on their work in the Texas legislative process.
I remember standing in line at the LBJ Student Center on the Texas State campus, smelling Chick-fil-A and desperately wishing I could have a chicken sandwich. I was starving, but I knew I could not get out of line unless I wanted to risk losing my precious spot. At that point, I had been standing in line for an hour, waiting to cast my vote for the 2018 midterm elections. There were many students waiting like me since we only had one polling place on campus. Also, the polling place was only open the first three days of early voting, operating only from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. rather than the usual 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. voting times.
Naturally, I was frustrated, but this election was an important one, and I knew this was my only chance to vote while on campus. The polling place wouldn’t even be open on election day. Also, I saw frustration among students rising as students complained about the situation. Students took the matter into their own hands and went to the Hays County Commission to advocate for longer voting hours. Eventually, the request was granted allowing longer hours for early voting on campus and opening our single polling place on election day.
The experience fueled my work with Young Invincibles (YI) during my time in the young advocates program. I was able to work with YI on House Bill 375, a bill that would allow more students to vote on campus. The bill introduced by Rep. Gina Hinojosa would require four-year institutions with 10,000 or more students to have on-campus polling locations on election day. In Texas, there are 22 public college campuses with over 10,000 students, but only seven of those campuses have an established polling place.
The passage of the bill would make it easier for almost half a million students to cast their ballots and help ensure that college students have their voices heard in our democracy. House Bill 375 is a common-sense approach to our voting laws that ensures young people have access to vote all across Texas.
We tried to educate and draw support for the bill through an advocacy day at our state capitol working with authors of the bill. During the advocacy day, we talked to legislators about the importance of the bill, heard from the authors what the bill means to them and shared stories about why the bill should pass. I even had the opportunity of sharing my experience with voting on Texas State’s campus and why I thought expanding voting access to student populations is vital for our democracy.
The House Bill 375 was referred to the Elections Committee and stayed there. It’s disappointing since we hoped it would pass quickly, yet it couldn’t even get a hearing. Given the situation, I’m still grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the process to bring this bill to life. I remain hopeful and motivated about policies like these that will help improve voter access in Texas. I’ll continue to work hard to ensure all Texans have equal access to voting because it’s the right thing to do.
Natalie Ferguson has a B.A. in Political Science from Texas State University. She currently serves as a Texas Organizing Coordinator for Young Invincibles.