Brazos County Commissioners approve agreement with Texas A&M for early voting busing
BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - In an effort to get more students to the polls Brazos County Commissioners turned to Texas A&M Transportation Services as the solution.
The Commissioners Court met on Tuesday and approved an interlocal agreement with Texas A&M University. In the agreement the county would pay $5,000 to the university to utilize its buses for 36-hours during the early voting period to take voters from the Memorial Student Center to College Station City Hall where they can cast their ballots.
For weeks commissioners heard from frustrated Texas A&M students who are upset about the court’s decision to remove the MSC as an early voting location and replace it with College Station City Hall. The decision came at the recommendation of Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry who said over the summer she heard from a number of her constituents who requested City Hall as a voting location.
“If we had to do it all over again I wouldn’t have recommended it,” Berry said. “I did not anticipate or realize the students felt they would be impacted by it because I felt, City Hall is right across the street from campus.”
Despite students efforts, the Commissioners Court decided against the MSC returning as an early voting location this year. The MSC will be a voting day location though.
“We got such a protest over it we decided we would take a look to see if there’s a way to be able to get students down to city hall since that’s what their complaint was,” Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said.
Texas A&M student Ishika Shah is a member of MOVE Texas Texas A&M an organization that empowers youth to get “civically engaged.” Since early September Shah has been at multiple Commissioners Court meetings in an attempt to bring the MSC back for early voting.
“They told us it wasn’t possible legally, but we reached out to a Texas civil rights lawyer and found out it’s all very legal. In fact it’s still legal up until five days before early voting, so it’s still possible,” Shah said. “We’ve given up on that hope, so now we’re focused on just getting buses to City Hall.”
Shah, who has been speaking with transportation services, said buses would need to run for around 115 hours to better accommodate student schedules which would cost around $15,000.
“We just ask the county to find as much room in their budget to cover that cost because the rest of it, us students are going to try to fundraise for because to us we don’t see like there’s an option to have just 36 hours of early voting shuttle ‚” Shah said. “It’s just a lot of additional cost that we have to figure out how to fundraise for on top of our studies.”
Traffic, wait times and distance are other “logistical challenges” that Shah said some students will face when the polls at College Station City Hall open for early voting.
“We know our challenges more than anyone because we deal with them everyday,” Shah said. “We have to account for commute time to a T, especially trying to find parking. It all makes a difference if you’re five minute late or five minutes early,”
As for the weekends Shah said Aggie football and a lack of transportation make it difficult for some students to cast their ballot.
“If the polls were at the MSC we could have walked from Kyle Field, but now they’re asking us to get through Texas Avenue traffic or VeoRide which cost money,” Shah said. “Why do we need to pay to go to the polls or cut out 40 minutes to walk there. Why are they asking voters to do this much to vote. It’s our right as United States citizens.”
Peters said the entire Commissioners Court is in agreement to bring back the MSC as an early voting location next year.
“I want to make it convenient for everyone out there who wants to vote,” Peters said. “I want to give them the opportunity to go vote. That’s what’s important to me.”
Shah said MOVE Texas A&M has created a GoFundMe page to raise the additional funds needed for the extra hours of transportation. The organization has already received over $4,000 in donations.
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