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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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Students concerned of possible voter suppression in Harris County


Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Voter suppression comes in many forms, but in Houston area counties, voters have been experiencing concerns with the start of early voting.

In Harris County, early voting and mail-in ballots began in October, and voters were concerned with there only being one mail-in ballot drop off to cover the entire county. 

“Voter suppression right now is the act of getting the least amount of people out to vote,” said political science sophomore Christian Hernandez. “We’ve seen in Harris County alone how hard state officials are trying to suppress the votes.”

Hernandez works as a campaign manager in the Harris County area and said voter suppression affects his job and how his campaign runs. With the changing rules of voting, Hernandez said incorrect information gets lost and twisted to the voters in his district.

“Right now in my political campaign, I have about 70,000 voters who have not yet voted, and it’s going to be hard to reach out to them because there are so many people that need to vote in so little time,” Hernandez said.

State leaders have blocked attempts of local officials to make voting by mail more accessible, according to the Houston Chronicle.

As early voting continues, Harris County beat previously stated records of the number of ballots cast the first day.

Voter suppression hits hard in the college-aged voters on and off campus, said political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus, adding that Texas makes it hard to vote from the burdens of registration to the ability to cast a ballot.

“College students are often hit hardest by all the hurdles to register to vote and cast a ballot.  Not surprisingly, turnout among younger voters often lags behind other age cohorts,” Rottinghaus said.

UH College Democrats president Blake McNeill said the measures taken by the state are deliberate attempts at voter suppression, especially the lone drop-off location for mail-in ballots per county.

“This is no doubt aimed at poorer citizens who will have to spend more time and money in order to exercise their right to vote, in the process making those who need representation less likely to get it,” McNeill said. “Getting young voters, especially busy college students, is hard (as well).”

Voter suppression means different things to different people. This can be defined by laws in each state or county that prevents certain voters from voting, but also by obstacles that can make voting a harder process to complete.

“I would describe voter suppression as tactics or even laws that keep eligible voters from voting in an election,” said UH College Republicans president Natalia Melo Malfitano. “Some people would argue things like long lines or requiring an ID as voter suppression, but I feel that it’s a hard case to make.”

The circumstances that come from this election year are anything but normal, Melo Malfitano said , and she has always advocated for Election Day to be a national holiday where workers would still get paid and resolve the issue of excuses not to vote.

As far as on-campus voting for UH students, there is an act of voter suppression, said Hernandez.

“I’ve noticed students who have been registered here and even voted in the 2020 primaries are not suspended,” Hernandez said. “The forms changed that no longer accepts 77204 as a valid ZIP code, causing voter registration status to be in suspense.”

If students have encountered this problem, Hernandez said to contact election officials and they can still vote. 

Sometimes voter suppression tactics work as younger voters tend to pay less attention in a combination of cynicism regarding the system and will to stay home, McNeill said.

There is discussion over how well Harris County is handling voter suppression as at least four lawsuits were filed, which a federal judge ruled in favor of those civil rights groups suing. 

Rottinghaus said Harris County did everything it could to make it easier to vote and is an example other counties should follow.

“Voter suppression is being handled terribly at the state level,” Hernandez said. “But, to counteract the state level, Harris County and their leadership are doing well with constantly adapting and plenty of new innovations (such as) drive-through voting.”

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