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Transient voters can influence long-term results

Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Editor,

Michael Clarke’s Letter to the Editor last Sunday (Turning voters away at the polls is unacceptable) raises an important issue and a few questions. As usual, these things are rarely as simple as they seem.  I don’t know where the “official list” of eligible voters from Hays County comes from, but I assume it is based on where the person last registered to vote. A student may not have lived in the county the prior year, or may have not even voted if elections weren’t held the prior year.

Let’s say a student from Dallas, St. Louis or Chicago wants to vote in the Texas election. If so, they should be given a voter registration change form in their school registration packet to mail in. Then they would be on the list. Or perhaps they would rather vote for their own State Representative in Dallas, Governor in Missouri, or the U.S. Senator in Illinois. In that case they should be reminded at registration to request an absentee ballot from “back home” while away at college.  It is then their responsibility to follow through.

College students move around a lot from dorms, to apartments, to houses, to cities, and even state to state over their four years. And this causes me to wonder about two possible outcomes; 1) The student from Illinois has a Texas State ID with his local apartment address, but is still registered in Chicago. What prevents them from voting both here and back home,  2) If they vote a straight ticket in our Hays County/San Marcos election for a US Senate candidate, like Beto O’Rourke, they impact all the judges, council persons, constables and ballot measures down the list. And when that is done by thousands of students it can have a major impact on local election results that might differ from what might be preferred by permanent residents. I wish there were a solution for this.

I congratulate Mr. O’Rourke on his near-victory. I am sure we will hear more from him. But I am glad that college student voters will now have to select actual candidates rather that the straight party line. It may make them more interested in San Marcos issues than just national ones. I hope so. Regardless of party, it should make for more interesting results in Texas college towns in the future. Our local University, as fine as it is, has at times had too much of a negative impact on our town’s heritage and the preservation of its values. I don’t want to see the same long-term results brought about by transient students.

John D. Barthel

Hays County

Editor’s Note: Texas ballots do not list party affiliations for municipal elections like city council seats.