Precinct turns away unaware voters

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More than half of the students who attempted to vote at the Flawn Academic Center were not aware that on Election Day, ballots can only be cast at the precinct in which voters live.

Out of the more than 2,000 voters who showed up at the FAC to cast their ballots on Tuesday, only 853 were actually allowed to vote. Precinct 148, the FAC location, is restricted to those who live on campus and surrounding areas. By 2 p.m., more than 1,200 people were turned away, said voting judge John McEvoy.

“Sorry, but you have to go to your own precinct to cast your ballot,” McEvoy repeatedly told voters. “You could have gone anywhere during early voting, folks. That’s one more reason to get out before Election Day.”

The biggest problem at the polls is voters who are unaware of the precinct restrictions, he said, leaving him and fellow judges to act as bearers of bad news.

“Most of them have no idea which precinct they fall under,” he said. “So when they show up, I get to tell them they can’t vote here after they’ve waited in line for 30 minutes.”

McEvoy said much of students’ confusion stems from the fact that they either saw crowds voting early at the FAC or voted there during the 2008 elections.

“A solution would be to do early voting some place else, so people will actually have to look for their precinct, instead of assuming it’s here,” he said. “But that would cause an inconvenience, so we’re kind of stuck.”

Undeclared freshman Paige Brown said she hoped to vote for the first time but was turned away, putting a damper on her first voting experience.

“I was pretty frustrated. I thought you could just show up, vote and go,” she said. “People were annoyed because you hear ‘You can go vote at the FAC,’ but that wasn’t the case for everyone.”

Brown, who lives in the Town Lake apartments off Riverside, did not vote this year because she had no means of getting to her correct precinct, she said.

Early voting eliminates the problem of precinct confusion because voters can cast their ballot at any polling place in the county, said Mary Fero, spokeswoman for the Travis County Clerk’s Office.

Early voting totals for 2010 indicate a marginal increase over 2006 in overall voter turnout in Travis County, she said. About 22 percent of registered voters cast their ballot during early voting, which ran from Oct. 21 to Oct. 29, according to county voting records.

“We also have mobile voting, where we change early voting locations so more people can access different poll sites and chose the one that’s most convenient,” she said.