EDINBURG, Texas (Border Report) — It’s Election Day but residents in the state of Texas might have a harder time finding a place to vote today because Texas has shuttered more polling sites than any other state in recent years, according to a report.
Texas has closed 750 polling places since 2012 — the most of any state, according to the report “Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote,” which was published last month by the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Texas state closed more than twice as many polling places than any other state, with Arizona coming in second with 320 closures, according to the report.
Altogether, the report found that 13 states closed 1,688 polling places from the 2012 general election cycle to 2018.
The report provides data linking the closure of polling stations in Texas beginning in 2013 — that’s the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states like Texas, which had a history of racial discrimination, no longer were required to get pre-approval from the federal government to pass new voting laws or make changes to the election process. The result has been fewer polling stations, which can impact the ability of low-income and minority voters from having access to polling places, due to transportation costs and difficulties.
“Poll closures have received little attention, even though they are a common and particularly pernicious way to disenfranchise voters of color. Decisions to shutter or reduce voting locations are often made quietly and at the last minute, making pre-election intervention or litigation virtually impossible. Closing polling places has a cascading effect, leading to long lines at other polling places, transportation hurdles, denial of language assistance and other forms of in-person help, and mass confusion about where eligible voters may cast their ballot. For many people, and particularly for voters of color, older voters, rural voters, and voters with disabilities, these burdens make it harder — and sometimes impossible — to vote,” the report found. “Though not inherently discriminatory, these polling place closures occurred in states and localities with past histories of racial discrimination in voting.”
Closing polling places has a cascading effect, leading to long lines at other polling places, transportation hurdles, denial of language assistance and other forms of in-person help, and mass confusion about where eligible voters may cast their ballot .”“Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote”
A Sept. 10 Houston Chronicle article said that many of the Texas polling places were shuttered as part of a statewide effort to shift to centralized voting centers, which were intended to make voting easier and more convenient.
But the report stressed there has been a lack of safeguards to protect voters of color. And it calls on lawmakers to provide them, saying “to protect voters from racial discrimination must be a top legislative priority.”
The Leadership Conference Education Fund was founded in 1969 as the education and research component of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which is the nation’s oldest and largest civil and human rights coalition of more than 200 national organizations.
Countywide polling sites
To help residents gain access to more polling places, some Texas counties, like Hidalgo County in deep South Texas, have implemented countywide polling locations on Election Day. This means that residents today can vote at any polling place, not just the place specified by their polling jurisdiction.
Hidalgo County, which has a high rate of low-income residents and is over 85 percent Hispanic, began this as a pilot program, which county officials say became recognized by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. Now the concept is spreading to other areas.
“It makes it easier for all voters to go vote because they don’t have to specifically go to a geographical location so we used it as a pilot program and it seemed to work well so we’ll continue to use it unless we find reasons not to, but we think it facilitates any voter to going to vote,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez told Border Report on Tuesday.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, which helped with the report, condones countywide polling as a way to encourage more voting among low-income and minority voters. And the organization has worked with urban counties in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio to implement the process there.
“TCRP supports and endorses the use of countywide polling across the state,” Texas Civil Rights Project spokesman Zenan Jaimes Perez told Border Report. “We are pushing Texas’ counties … highly encouraging them to keep, or increase, the number of polling locations.”
The organization said that a TCRP analysis of the 2018 general election found that more than 4,600 provisional ballots were rejected in the state’s five most populous counties “because the voter went to the wrong precinct. Countywide polling locations will help address that problem,” he said.
Statewide, Texas voters today were voting on 12 propositions.
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