New Law Aims to Curb "Rolling Voting"

A soon-to-be law takes aim at "rolling voting," the practice of moving voting machines around more than usual during certain elections. This story is part of our 31 Days, 31 Ways series.

 Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Throughout August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change because of new laws that take effect Sept. 1. Check out our story calendar for more.

A soon-to-be law takes aim at the practice of "rolling voting," which critics say can be used to tip the scales in favor of one side in some elections by moving polling places too often.

The law's backers say it adds uniformity and predictability to the process by requiring, among other things, that mobile polling locations be open for two consecutive days, eight hours a day, in some cases. That contrasts with some elections, often those held by school districts, in which officials move around the locations for briefer periods, according to the rolling voting opponents.

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With rolling voting, some entities can "could essentially harvest votes," said Rep. Greg Bonnen, the Friendswood Republican who authored the legislation, House Bill 2027"That did not seem consistent with giving all the voters an equal stake in the election."

The practice has particularly drawn attention from fiscal conservatives, who suspect debt-plagued school districts employ rolling voting to push through costly bond proposals. For example, districts may move a voting machine to a school sporting event for only a few hours, targeting voters most likely to support the district's proposals.

Cy-Fair and Frisco independent school districts are just two places where budget watchdogs have zeroed in on how elections are held. 

"I think school districts are addicted to debt, and they were using rolling polling to further that addiction," said James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank. 

The law's critics argue that it could prove prohibitively costly by requiring them to keep temporary polling places open longer than they currently do. 

"The cost of an election will skyrocket, which will make it virtually impossible to do any kind of" polling at temporary locations, said Paul McLarty, deputy superintendent of business and support services for Clear Creek ISD outside Houston. "I think it will inhibit the voter turnout."

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Bonnen insisted the bill is about ensuring election integrity. The goal of the legislation, he added, is "simply to have easily accessible, standard, fair polling locations." 

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.