Push for Polling Site at UNT Hits Snag in Denton

A push is underway this legislative session in Austin, to require large Texas colleges and universities to set up campus polling sites for elections. Meanwhile, in Denton, there's a battle shaping up over whether the University of North Texas should get its own polling place for the upcoming May election.

Muhammad Kara thinks his fellow UNT students should have a voice. It's one of the reasons he ran for student government president.

"We wanted to work with students to get what they wanted to accomplish," said Kara, an Integrated Studies major from Dallas.

One thing he's trying to accomplish would ensure more voices are heard.

"We currently don't have a polling site on our campus," he said. "So we have to find creative solutions to get our students to the nearest polling site."

In the past, that's meant busing students to the closest polling site, at the Denton Civic Center, several miles away. But with busy class and work schedules, many students, says Kara, don't go.

"They feel discouraged to vote because they don't have the time," he explained. "And if they don't have the time they're not going to make that a priority."

The city of Denton is responsible for setting polling locations for the May election. The issue of whether to put a polling site on campus has been held up, over ethics and conflict of interest questions. Two members of Denton City Council, which has the final say, also have ties to UNT. Council member Deb Armintor is a professor there, as is the wife of fellow council member Paul Meltzer. An ethics panel this month ruled both must abstain from voting on or discussing city matters which pertain to the university.

"I'm going to assume politics is the reason why some don't want this to happen," said Kara.

An Austin-based state representative, democrat Gina Hinojosa, has introduced a bill which would place polling sites at 22 Texas college and university campuses with student populations over 10,000. Currently, less than a third have them.

"I think students really want to vote," said Kara. "But there are so many barriers that are put in place that discourage them."

He believes that could change, if those barriers were removed. Denton city council could take up the issue again, next week.

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