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GCSW Professor’s Civic Participation Study Supported Establishment of Countywide Vote Centers

 

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UH and TSU as New Early Voting and Election Day Vote Centers

October 8, 2019

(HOUSTON, TX) – In May 2019, GCSW Associate Professor Suzanne Pritzker led a comprehensive report released via Houston in Action that highlighted the large number of barriers to civic participation within underrepresented communities in Harris . In response to this study and other evidence presented, the Harris County Clerk’s office announced mid-August 2019 that the University of Houston and Texas Southern University will serve as both early voting and election day sites, open to all Harris County voters, beginning October 21, 2019.

 Through Pritzker’s research interests and commitment to youth civic engagement, youth empowerment, and political social work, she become a vocal advocate for social policies that negatively impact vulnerable populations. 

“I have been directly involved in these important conversations, together with Houston in Action community partners who have used this report to provide research-based grounding for their advocacy efforts. Alongside community partners, I used our study’s findings to testify in Commissioners Court on the creation of countywide vote centers, was involved in conversations around the importance of campus-based polling locations, and spoke about campus-based polling places at a panel at the Texas state capitol earlier this year,” said Pritzker.

The Take Action Houston: Policies Affecting Civic Participation in Houston and Texas report highlighted the extensive barriers to voter access within the state and Harris County, including: the systemic removal of voters from voter rolls in Harris County, disproportionate rejection of provisional ballots, the inability for voters to register online, the lack of same-day voter registration, and a declining number of polling places within Harris County relative to the county’s population.

It was the omission of the University of Houston as an early polling location that led Pritzker to further investigate the impact such a significant absence had on voter turnout.

“The University of Houston is the only large university in Texas that did not have an early voting location in 2018. In contrast, the University of Texas has two. Young people consistently vote at a lower rates than other adults, in part due to barriers to access. The lack of polling places at the University of Houston and other large institutions of higher education in Houston that serve diverse student bodies was glaring, especially compared to what was happening elsewhere in Texas.” 

Diane Trautman, the county clerk, seemed to agree with the questionable omission. Along with the announcement of the two university early voting sites, she said “it’s so important for young people to be involved in the election process.”

Pritzker lauded the decision.

“It’s exciting to see the University of Houston and Texas Southern University working together with Diane Trautman to increase voting access both for young people and for the many staff members working at each university,” said Pritzker.

Though it is a great step towards increasing voter access, Pritzker acknowledged that there is still lots of work to be done in light of the growing tide of laws aimed at suppressing voter turnout among youth and people of color.

“To keep the momentum going—a great next step to increase youth access to voting would be to encourage Texas to join the many other states that explicitly accept student IDs as an acceptable form of Voter ID.”