Lack of Early Voting Locations in Dove Springs Concerns Residents
Isabel Rios is standing outside the Fiesta Supermarket on Stassney Lane, approaching shoppers as they walk toward the store. It's the only early voting location near Dove Springs.
"Hola!" she says, walking toward a couple shoppers. "Hello. Votan? Votan, señoras?”
Rios is stumping for District 2 city council candidate Edward Reyes at Fiesta, the closest early voting location to the Dove Springs neighborhood. She and Reyes say their job has turned from campaigning to encouraging people to vote at all.
“Just talking and encouraging people to vote," Rios says. "Trying to engage people as we can.”
For years, Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood has had trouble with voter turnout. In the last gubernatorial election – in 2010 – turnout in Dove Springs was about 11 percent. But if residents in the 78744 zip code want to cast their ballot early, they'll have to leave the neighborhood to do so. Travis County did not put any early voting locations in that zip code. There was a mobile voting location on one day of early voting. The closest permanent location, Fiesta Supermarket, is on the west side of I-35.
Some Dove Springs residents are concerned the lack of early voting locations and a lack of voter education will negatively impact turnout there, especially for first time voters.
"Especially if you look at urban rail," Reyes says, spreading a sample ballot on the flatbed of his truck. "It's advertised as Proposition 1 but here it says Proposition, City of Austin. There's already something misleading. From the advertisement to the ballot. There's a lot of stuff on this ballot, the ACC bonds, different districts, the mayor. There's so many steps because it's not simplified."
Dove Springs resident OfeliaZapata says the county needs to be more proactive when they decide where to place early voting and mobile voting locations.
"They should look at where are the low voter turnout areas and that should be a red flag to say, 'you know, why don't we try something else,'" she says.
Zapata says there are two main reasons for low voter turnout: time and transportation. Many residents work more than one job or long hours. Sometimes they don’t get off work until the polls are closed. Plus, she says many residents don’t have cars and there is no direct bus from the heart of Dove Springs to the Fiesta supermarket.
“I would have to take the number 7 [bus] down Pleasant Valley and get off at Stassney and then take the 311," Zapata explains. "But the 311 takes 45 minutes it doesn’t come frequent.”
The Travis County Commissioners court approves early voting locations about six weeks before the elections. Each location costs the county about $22,000 to operate.
“For us, this is a far away location," Rios says. "The buses rarely come through here. People have to take one to two buses depending on where they are in our district.”
But county officials say they've never received complaints about the lack of early voting locations from that area.
Dana DeBeauvoir is the Travis County Clerk, the county’s chief election administrator. She says the county makes sure all early voting locations are on bus routes and are handicap accessible. But she also says it can be difficult in areas like Dove Springs. She says it lacks large buildings that can hold early voting locations.
“We held a mobile voting area out there at the Southeast Branch library and then on Election Day they’re at Mendez Middle school. So, they have pretty good service out there," DeBeauvoir says.
“I wish they would’ve opened the library every day," Rios says. "They just opened it once this week. And they didn’t even advertise. People were asking, “Were they open today?” I said, 'Yeah, but that was just one day."
Despite the lack of early voting locations in 78744, Travis County does have more early voting and mobile locations than any other county in the state. DeBeauvoir says the county likes to put early voting locations in popular places like grocery stores and malls. But the main grocery store in Dove Springs, HEB, doesn’t participate in early voting.
Ofelia Zapata says organizations like Capital Metro should step up and help residents get to the polls.
“We can be creative," Zapata says. "We’re very creative in making all those arrangements for anyone else that comes into town, ACL, South by Southwest. Why not for voting? And maybe that’s something we’ll challenge in the next elections."
On election day, there are five voting locations in the 78744 zip code.