For decades, students at Prairie View A&M University who wanted to vote needed to prepare for a small hike if they did not have a car or ride of their own. Voting meant a mile-long walk to the county community center and waiting in line near a busy roadway. But for this year’s November elections, students will be able to drop by a polling place in between classes or at lunch because Texas’ oldest HBCU will finally have an on-campus voting station.
The victory for Prairie View A&M students and those living near the campus, located in Walker County, was not easily won. The initial charge was led by Prairie View A&M’s student government president, Priscilla Barbour, a senior political science major. Her letter to Texas Secretary of State John Steen prompted his visit to the campus, but according to the Texas Tribune, things didn’t start changing for the better until an organization called True the Vote stepped in.
Meanwhile, True the Vote, a national group focused on voter fraud with roots in the Tea Party, learned about the students’ efforts and quietly joined the cause, at the encouragement of Republican Prairie View alumni.
A spokesman for the organization acknowledged that it might be viewed by some as “the least likely group to help out.”
True the Vote’s efforts to verify voter registration rolls and observe elections in several states have been criticized as an attempt to suppress voting by minority groups. In 2012, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., wrote a letter to Catherine Engelbrecht, True the Vote’s president, warning that the group’s efforts “could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.”
On Thursday, Engelbrecht, who has disputed such characterizations, described her organization as “the nation’s leading vanguard for voter’s rights.”
Barbour said accepting help from the controversial group had been risky.
“I decided I would be open to whatever anybody would do to help,” she said. “I think that was one of the game changers.”
By accepting True the Vote’s help, Barbour was able to convince Walker County commissioners to place a polling center at the Memorial Student Center on the Prairie View campus, which will be open on Election Day. Those who want to participate in early voting will still have to visit the precinct at the county community center.