Leander resident Jeff Jenkins told Leander City Council members, “To take away voting places, you’re taking away someone’s right to vote.”
Last Thursday, the city council approved two polling places for the upcoming June 16 mayoral runoff between Troy Hill and Vic Villarreal, removing Leander and Rouse high schools from the lineup of May 5 voting locations.
Three arguments for having just one polling place were discussed at the meeting — having one has traditionally been what the city has always done, a $4,000 additional expense for each of the three additional polling places was too expensive, and the city isn’t so big that it would be a hardship for residents to drive to a single location to vote.
The City of Leander approved a $34.4 million budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year last September. This included a 10-cent decrease in the property tax rate. With the high growth the city is experiencing, it’s expected to see a $1.8 million increase in property taxes over the current budget numbers.
Had the city council approved all four polling places, the $37,000 cost would be less than 2 percent of the estimated increase in property taxes over the figures using in the budget.
Just because something has always been done the same way doesn’t mean it’s the best for the city and its citizens. When it comes to voting, citizens should have more access, not less. By eliminating both high schools, there are no voting locations east of 183 or south of Crystal Falls Parkway.
That means residents in some areas of the city will have to walk, drive, or share a ride several miles more to vote in the runoff. For most, that additional distance probably won’t pose any real hardship. But for senior citizens, the disabled, and many living below the area’s already-high cost of living, the additional time and cost requirements could dissuade them from going to the polls. That’s truly a shame.
For comparison sake, we looked at the number of polling places open on May 5. Leander, encompassing some 34.08 square miles, had four polling places. Cedar Park, with 22.39 square miles in its city limits, also had four polling places. Round Rock, with a territory similar to Leander’s at 35.9 square miles, had twice as many polling locations — eight — on election day.
We aren’t saying that Round Rock, with a population more than double Leander’s, should be the basis for setting the number of polling places. But, we feel newly-elected City Council Member Christine Sederquist said it best when she told fellow council members, “We owe it to the public to make voting locations accessible and allow every voice to be heard, no matter which way it goes. We owe it to both of the candidates that they have that shot as well.”
We couldn’t agree more.