BRYAN, Texas — Tuesday was a dramatic day for Brazos County politics, as Texas A&M students, faculty, and non-affiliated community members spoke out against Brazos County commissioner Nancy Berry’s decision to remove early voting from the Texas A&M campus.
Emotions were very high at the commissioner’s court and attendance was standing room only. The main topic of discussion for the regular meeting was early voting at Texas A&M’s campus, as over the summer Berry, of Precinct 3, changed her precinct's early voting location from the Memorial Student Center [MSC] to College Station city hall, citing issues with non-student voters having difficulty accessing campus.
For several weeks now, students have attended the regular meetings to protest this change, insisting it disenfranchises student voters who have trouble leaving campus to vote between classes. Commissioners have posed that making the change for early voting would be too late at this point, this close to early voting in October.
Item 8 of the regular agenda opened with frustration from Aggie students, faculty, and their supporters, who said they were led to believe Tuesday’s discussion would be about moving voting back to campus this election cycle, not next year’s, as the agenda states. But in fact, agenda item 8 referred to a discussion to reinstate campus voting for 2023's elections.
Commissioner Russ Ford, Precinct 2, who has remained supportive of the students’ position since the summer, also expressed that he had not been informed correctly.
“I was given bad information," Ford said to the court. "I actually asked that this be put on the agenda and was told at that time we could not make a change for 2022. I understand now that that is incorrect.”
Commissioner Berry apologized to the students, and expressed her interest in re-establishing the MSC as an early voting location for 2023.
Krystal Ocon from the Brazos County elections office spoke about how updated ballots for military voters casting votes overseas must be sent out this week, and a change of early voting venue would require a changing of the ballots.
“We have done the LNA testing, which has to be posted 48 hours before so all of our entities can make their way to our office and do the LNA testing. So we won’t be able to do that. FPCA ballots have to be emailed out by Friday, and I have over 150 out.”
Students and their supporters, including local election candidates, insisted that they were not being treated with the same respect as other voters.
They believe commissioners could have initiated the change for early voting any time over the past few weeks, if only they hadn’t misunderstood election law.
“All the talk about this being impossible or even inconvenient is wrong," said Kristina Samuel, Texas A&M senior and president of MOVE Texas' A&M chapter, as she addressed the court. "... But this has been told to me by commissioners and county affiliates with full confidence. You should be ashamed that as county commissioners and affiliates that you don’t know the law you are abiding by.”
Ford asked his colleagues if a special workshop for this election cycle could be scheduled. But, no real resolution was reached. And the clock marches forward.
“I think the workshop would allow us to properly discuss and question the sources that we have, and bring experts in," said Irma Cauley, commissioner for Precinct. 4. "That’s how we do business here.”
Several students and supporters attempted to speak and ask questions when the court had closed the public commentary period.
Attendees expressed frustration that they were not allowed to speak longer than three minutes apiece, and could not ask questions or counter commissioners' points during the court's discussion. One student shouted that the court did not care about Aggie students.
The question remains: will the commission have run out of time to change voting locations if they wait to discuss this matter at a workshop?
“In my opinion, I think it is their responsibility, as they have openly expressed that they made a mistake, to do everything in their power to fix it, which I don’t believe they’re doing," Samuel told KRHD.
Early voting in Texas begins Oct. 24.