Oh, Texas. You’ve closed 750 polling places.

by | Sep 19, 2019 | Policy, Voting

A groundbreaking new report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund found 750 polling places have closed in Texas since 2013— the most of any state examined in the study. Dallas County, which is 40% Latino and 22% African American, had the most closures.

The report underscores the nationwide effort to make it more difficult for people — especially communities of color—to vote. 

Some of the closures, the reports states, are due to Texas’ move to centralize voting by establishing “countywide polling places.” The more structural reason, however, according to voting rights champions, is the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which effectively watered down a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that ended systematic discrimination against voters of color in the South. 

The section, also known as the preclearance provision, allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to halt states with a history of voter discrimination—like Texas— from making changes to its voting procedures. Essentially, DOJ had an oversight role. That safeguard was blown up in Shelby.

“Texas has reverted to form since Shelby County, enacting a host of measures that sharply restrict the right to vote,” said Beth Stevens, voting rights program director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, in a statement. “Polling place closures are among the most pernicious of these changes because these decisions receive little attention at the time they are made but have a large and disproportionate impact on poor and racial minority communities when they try to vote.”

As recently as this year, Republican officials in Texas attempted to purge tens of thousands from the voter rolls, citing fraud (claims of voter fraud in Texas have become as frequently phony as a certain current president). The officials were egregiously wrong and the Texas secretary of state was forced to apologize. He was subsequently not confirmed by the state senate to continue in that role. 

The Leadership Conference says its study was an effort to do “precisely the kind [of analysis] that the U.S. Department of Justice conducted under preclearance.”

In her dissenting opinion in the Shelby case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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