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At A Historically Black University In Houston, An Emotional Night For Super Tuesday Voters

Teachers, students, parents and other voters had to wait for hours to cast a ballot on campus at the HBCU.

Voters in line at Texas Southern University.

Bobbie Cashin, 18, of St. Agnes High School, stood in line Super Tuesday at Houston's Texas Southern University, ready to cast her vote. But when she got to the front of the line, after hours of waiting, poll workers said there was a problem: records showed she'd already voted early.

But Bobbie and her mother, Janine Cashin said that was impossible: the 18-year-old had never voted before. Ever.

"I said, ‘you know what? My mother would kill me, because she didn't have the right to vote, if I pulled you out and let you go home and do your three hours of homework,'" Janine Cashin said. "No, you've got to stay. And then she goes in there and they turn her away."

In Harris County, Super Tuesday didn’t go exactly as planned, with voters reporting long lines at numerous polling places. The Cashins were just two of the people frustrated while standing in line at the polls Tuesday, as record turnout along with technological and logistical snafus caused massive wait times for people across the county.

At Texas Southern University, a historically black university, the line of mostly African American voters waited up to seven hours to cast their ballots. It turned out to be an emotional night for some Houstonians who wanted to participate in democracy.

Teacher LaQuita Middleton Holmes had a busy night of grading papers ahead of her, but she made the decision to stay in line anyway.

"I'm a history teacher," Middleton Holmes said. "I know the civil rights history. I'm from Alabama, so that's where people marched."

"I know that I can stand in line just to cast my vote," she added. "They did it so I can."

She wanted to set an example not just for her kids, but also her students.

"They can actually see that ‘hey, she's sleeping in class today, she's extremely tired, she might be a little irritated a little bit, but when she tells us this story and when she told us this story we can understand her passion for this,'" Middleton Holmes said.

Texas Southern University’s polling location around 11 p.m. on Election Night.

Hours after the polls were supposed to close at 7 p.m., Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee showed up to visit the long line of voters still waiting to cast a ballot.

"They have done nothing wrong and they have the right to vote," Jackson Lee said, "particularly in a school that was born out of segregation and historically now is an example of fighting against voting suppression."

The voting machines were programmed to stop working at midnight, Jackson Lee said, and she stopped by the polling location to see that machines kept functioning until the last ballot was cast.

"I wanted to make sure that every single one of these people voted," Jackson Lee said. "And look at them standing here. What an attitude. It's unbelievable."

Sheila Jackson Lee at Texas Southern University’s polling place, on a phone call with Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman.

Since parts of the Voting Rights Act were struck down in 2013, the number of polling places in Texas also shrunk. In Harris County alone there were 52 fewer polling places in 2020, according to a study from the Leadership Conference Education Fund. That study looked at the effects of closed polling places in areas with large communities of color, after the U.S. Supreme Court case in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a provision of the act that required some states like Texas to get federal approval before making changes to voting laws or practices.

Sheila Jackson Lee at Texas Southern University’s polling place, with someone on a phone call to Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman.

In the case of first-time voter Bobbie Cashin and her mother, Janine, Trautman told Houston Public Media that the typical protocol in that situation would be for the voter to cast a provisional ballot.

“But we’d need more details really to answer completely on that,” Trautman said. “But if they just can’t seem to come up with the right information, they can always cast a provisional ballot. Most of the time, the election workers will call into our office or the County Attorney’s office.”

When a poll worker came over to apologize to Janine Cashin, she told him, "I'm disappointed in your team. I'm very disappointed. I am. And I would have expected more."

Janine had made sure that her daughter stayed in line all night, even though she had school in the morning and hours of homework before that. She tried to resolve the problem with the poll workers, but it was almost 1 a.m., and Bobbie was emotionally worn out.

Now, she's worried about whether her daughter will want to vote at all next time.

"Is she really going to want to vote again?" Cashin said. "Is this really encouraging her to have a voice?"

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