The Sam Houston State University Student Government Association held several voter registration drives on campus leading up to the 2020 presidential election. However, when it came time to begin voting, it quickly became apparent that something had gone very wrong as SHSU students who registered on campus were being turned away at Walker County polls.
Amidst headlines nationwide about cases of possible voter suppression, students understandably became concerned that even voting in the local community could be at risk
Freshman mass communication major Sarah Weeks brought attention to the issue on Nov. 2, when she tweeted about her experience at the polls. She was told she was not registered to vote in Walker County after she had registered at a campus registration table sponsored by SGA. In her post she speculated about why it happened.
“When I went to go vote I found out @SHSUStuAct or @SamHouston_SGA didn’t mail in a bunch of the people’s registrations including mine and the only way I would be able to vote is to drive home 3 hours to my home county [because] my address change didn’t go through,” Weeks’ post said. “I asked the poll worker and apparently this happened to a bunch of the kids registration slips so. That’s wonderful. I hope everyone who tried to register or change their address at @SamHoustonState voting registration drive gets to go home and vote or so our voices can be heard.”
She later replied to her original post saying that she was not sure if they were not mailed at all or were just mailed late. Her post quickly went viral in the SHSU community, with many students sharing stories of their similar experiences.
On Nov. 3, the SHSU Student Government Association released an official statement addressing the “registration concerns” on Twitter.
Their statement said that they received information from the Walker County Elections Office that the delay in students being registered was due to the large volume of applications at the Secretary of State’s Office, where they were mailed.
“Student Government Association prides itself in being the ‘official voice for the student body’ and our sole intention was to educate and empower students,” SGA’s statement said. “We have done everything in our power to resolve this issue with no avail.”
Walker County Tax Accessor-Collector and County Election Officer Diana McRae said the issue could be traced back to a Deputy Voter Registrar.
According to McRae, the Deputy Voter Registrar collected approximately 150 to 200 applications over a period of time on campus without keeping a log or giving applicants receipts. The Deputy Voter Registrar then mailed the applications to the Secretary of State’s Office, instead of McRae’s office.
The Secretary of State’s Office mailed the applications to Walker County for processing, pointing out that none of them were postmarked by the voter registration deadline.
“When I became aware of the situation, the Deputy was immediately terminated due to failure to adequately review applications and failure to properly deliver applications,” McRae said. “Now that the November 3rd election is over, all late applications have been processed and a voter registration certificate (card) has been mailed to the registered voters.”
Under Texas Election Codes 13.040 and 13.042, the Deputy Voter Registrar’s actions could be punishable by either a Class C misdemeanor if their failure to comply is found unintentional or a Class A misdemeanor if it is found intentional, McRae said.
She spoke with the Deputy Voter Registrar and does not believe that the incident was intentional. No charges have been filed at this time.
More information on voting procedures and requirements in Walker County can be found on the Walker County Elections Office website and McRae said her office is always available.