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Shorter Library Hours Pose a Problem for Voters on Election Days

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Austin voters sometimes face 'irregular' hours at polling places, especially since libraries have cut back their hours. Pictured here: Voters head into the Pan American Center in November.

This is normally a busy time of year for anyone involved with city elections in Austin. Some school districts and local governments in the area have things on the ballot.

But it's the first time Austinites will not be voting for city council in May, and this new timing may help solve a city-wide voting challenge: finding an open polling place.

Ernesto Calderon is a very committed voter. So committed, in fact, that during the last election cycle, he voted in the November general election and, six weeks later, he got ready to do it all over again. On Election Day, Calderon, who lives in District 2, prepared to vote in his district's run-off election.

"My wife and I got up early," Calderon recounts. "[We] got ready, went to the Dan Ruiz Library around 8 o'clock in the morning and found out that it was closed."

Then, they headed to their neighborhood HEB — but it didn't have a voting booth. They then headed to the Rec Center — but it didn't open until 10.

Calderon told his story before the Austin City Council last week.

"To make a long story short," Calderon told council, he went on the internet and found "that 6 of the 18 voting places [in District 2] had irregular voting hours. Irregular to me," said Calderon, "is being other than 7 a.m. to 7 p.m."

This was news to many council members — ten out of the eleven are new to city government.

But, for Dana Debeauvoir, the Travis County Clerk, the library hours have been an ongoing challenge she's tried to solve with previous councils.

"You know? This has been in place for more than 10 years," Debeauvoir said.

About a decade ago, the city tried to save money by shortening library hours and keeping branches closed one day a week.

Debeauvoir says every election cycle she hears from frustrated voters, but she has yet to hear from the city.

"I'm the one who's reached out to the city manager's office to talk about it," she says.

Library branches are unlikely to go back to operating seven days a week. Their budget has been stagnant for years. Still, Debeauvoir believes special arrangements can be made for election days.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.