A rural Republican lawmaker is proposing a partial revival of mobile early voting, an easily manipulated practice banned by Texas lawmakers last session that Democrats are currently suing to restore statewide.
Mobile voting, also known as “rolling polling,” involves repeatedly moving temporary polling stations from place to place during the early voting period.
In 2019, lawmakers passed House Bill 1888 to end rolling polling because local officials were using the process to tilt election results in their favor, targeting favorable voters while depressing general turnout.
The law now requires all early voting places to be open the same days and hours as a county’s main early voting site, giving all voters uniform access to the polls.
At last week’s House Elections Committee hearing, State Rep. Travis Clardy (R–Nacogdoches) laid out House Bill 2149, which would allow mobile voting to resume in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents.
That’s more than 200 of the state’s 254 counties.
Clardy said HB 1888 created “unintended consequences” and “threw a lot of smaller counties into a tizzy.”
He said the concern then was the “overzealous” moving of polling places to very favorable locations, particularly by nonpartisan subdivisions holding bond and tax elections.
But the new law undercut the ability of local election officials to use limited resources to accommodate voters who are spread out across a large area.
The issue exemplifies the tension within the Texas Legislature between rural and urban districts that doesn’t always align with partisan differences.
Clardy’s House District 11 covers a mostly rural portion of East Texas encompassing Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk counties, each with well under 100,000 residents.
Clardy has described himself as “the lone voice in the wilderness” for rural counties across the state.
He said his bill restores local control and ownership of the election process, adding local officials know best how to run their elections.
“They know the counties and the voting patterns and how best to use their voting resources and not waste county dollars keeping open full-time voting locations,” Clardy said.
Democrat State Rep. John Bucy (Cedar Park), who serves with Clardy on the elections committee, endorsed restoring mobile voting for all counties, saying it would also benefit rural areas of larger counties like Williamson, where his district is located.
But Democrats have added motivations for wanting to bring back rolling polling.
The Texas Democrat Party filed a lawsuit in 2019 seeking to block HB 1888, claiming it would result in unconstitutional age discrimination by making it harder for college students—who they expect to favor Democrats—to vote. The case is still working its way through federal courts.
Texas Democrat Party representative Glen Maxey told the committee ending mobile voting had not diminished college voters’ access or turnout, but he supports Clardy’s bill.
Maxey said problems occurred in the past during low-turnout elections where officials were “venue-shopping for voters,” and he suggested revising the bill to allow rolling polling in all counties during primary and general elections.
Alan Vera, head of the Harris County Republican Party’s ballot security committee, said HB 1888 had been “heavily motivated” by the “outlandish behavior” of school districts moving polls from school to school, and game to game, and even PTA meetings, so the average working person could not find the polls.
Rolling polling was often abused by school districts looking to pass bonds or tax increases. By ensuring that beneficiaries of a proposed bond or tax hike made up a higher percentage of the total vote, a school district could radically improve its chances to pass the measure.
Former Harris County election official Ed Johnson said he had seen rolling-polling abuse all around the state and not just in small elections, but in primary and general elections as well.
Johnson suggested requiring polling places to remain in a fixed location for the same number of days within each county commissioner district. He said the process needs to be “fair and equitable” so officials are not “traveling around looking for” favorable voters.
Clardy said he doesn’t share the same level of distrust for local election officials.
“I have a high degree of confidence in elections in Texas,” Clardy said. “I’m not trying to dictate top-down how counties run an election.”
He said if officials in large counties like Harris abuse mobile voting, voters can hold them accountable.
“There’s a cure for this if they make a bad decision,” he added. “They’re called elections.”
“We want everyone to be able to vote conveniently, locally,” Clardy concluded.
Yet if rolling polling is restored, as Clardy and Democrats want, Texans in some locations may be able to vote more conveniently than others.