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Secretary of State: Prairie View A&M students allowed to vote without extra paperwork

October 13, 2018

Prairie View A&M University students will not have to fill out additional registration paperwork before casting their ballots, a move that allays the concerns of Democrats who worried long lines would dissuade students from voting.

The news, announced in a joint statement Friday by Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, Waller County, the local parties and Democratic congressional candidate Mike Siegel, comes after confusion on Prairie View A&M’s campus over student residents who registered under addresses that placed them in a different precinct.

Officials said they would allow those students to vote at the on-campus precinct, but would require them to fill out a statement of residence form — referred to by county officials as a “change in address” form — before casting a ballot. Siegel and other local Democrats worried the requirement would depress turnout.

The statement reads: “It has been communicated and confirmed that the Waller County plan ensures, as it was always intended to do, that all students residing on campus who are registered to vote in the county will be able to cast their ballots at the Precinct 309 polling location on campus, and that no students will be impeded, hampered, or otherwise delayed in exercising their constitutional right to cast a ballot in the upcoming General Election.”

The statement came out of a conference convened by Pablos, which spurred a discussion that Pablos said was “productive” and provided parties to the call with “ample opportunity to contribute their points of view.”

Meanwhile, the county will provide additional poll workers to help students update their address for future elections after voting, County Judge Trey Duhon said in a statement.

Siegel in a statement thanked those who “worked together to make sure Prairie View students can vote without hindrance.”

“The vote is the most fundamental right in our democracy,” Siegel said. “We will continue to work with students and community members to prevent any voter suppression.”

The incident originates from a 2016 decision by the county, university officials and the local parties to allow students to register under the university’s primary address, 100 or 700 University Drive. Officials say the decision was intended to allow students to receive their voter registration cards, as they do not have individual mail boxes.

County officials discovered in the March primary that one of the addresses — which is used by the campus bookstore — was located in Precinct 310, the Prairie View City Hall precinct. They eventually decided to allow students to vote at the wrong precinct after filling out a statement of residence form.

Prairie View A&M, whose student body is about 80 percent black, has a fraught history with the county over voter registration issues, including a 1979 case involving the voting rights of students that reached the Supreme Court. The prior incidents caused alarm among Siegel and some local Democrats, though Duhon and other county officials insist they never intended to prevent students from voting.

Elections Administrator Christy Eason, who served in a different role at the time, said in a statement Friday that “there was never any ill intent behind the error whatsoever.”

“I don’t think it ever crossed anyone’s mind, including the university, that the university’s main address was not actually physically on campus,” Eason said.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

twitter.com/jaspscherer

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