Southern U.S. States Have Closed 1,200 Polling Places in Recent Years: Rights Group

REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

States across the American South have closed nearly 1,200 polling places since the Supreme Court weakened a landmark voting-discrimination law in 2013, according to a report released by a civil-rights group on Tuesday.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found http://www.democracydiverted.org that states with a history of racial discrimination have shuttered hundreds of voting locations since the court ruled that they did not need federal approval to change their laws. The report did not have comparisons with polling places in other regions.

The report comes as Republican-led states impose a range of other restrictions, from shorter voting hours to photo-ID requirements. As turnout has surged in recent elections, voters in cities like Phoenix, Arizona and Atlanta, Georgia, have endured hours-long waits to cast their ballots.

Seven counties in Georgia now have only one polling place, the report found.

Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, areas with a history of voting discrimination – such as requiring African American or Hispanic voters to pay a poll tax or pass a literacy test – had first to convince the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court that any election changes they wished to make would not have a discriminatory effect. The Supreme Court struck down that portion of the law in 2013.

The law covered a swath of southern states stretching from Virginia to Texas, along with Arizona, Alaska and a few counties in states like New York, North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, South Dakota and California.

The high number of poll closures in these regions shows that Congress needs to restore the protections that were previously in place, said Vanita Gupta, the group’s president.

“Moving or closing a polling place, particularly without notice or input from communities, disrupts our democracy. It can mean the choice between picking up a child from school or voting,” Gupta told a House of Representatives subcommittee that is considering legislation that would restore federal oversight.

Voters in many U.S. states can now mail in their ballots or vote in person before Election Day. But in last year’s vote, most still cast their ballots in person, just as they did in 2012, according to figures compiled by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

State election officials have cited a variety of reasons, from budget pressures to disability laws, for closing polling places, while officials in many parts of Texas and Arizona have tried to shift from neighborhood-based polling places to “voter centers” that accept ballots from all qualified citizens.

Those states had the sharpest decrease in polling locations, according to the report.

Election officials in Texas have closed more than 1 in 10 voting locations statewide, according to data collected by the Leadership Conference’s education and research arm.

In Arizona, more than 1 in 5 polling locations were closed, the data showed.

Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi closed roughly 1 in 20 polling locations, while the declines were less dramatic in Alabama, Alaska and North Carolina.

One notable exception to the trend is South Carolina, where state law requires multiple officials to sign off on any changes. The state has actually added 45 polling locations since 2012.

Overall, those states formerly covered by the law have closed at least 1,688 polling places between 2012 and 2018, the Leadership Conference found. A total 1,173 of those polling places were closed after the 2014 election – and after the Supreme Court issued its decision.

It is difficult to compare those results with the United States as a whole. The Election Assistance Commission reported that 231,000 polling places were used nationwide in 2018, up from 120,000 in 2012, but the agency noted that those figures are incomplete as several states do not provide reliable data.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; editing by Richard Pullin and Dan Grebler)

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General Confusion
Member

“They aren’t closing locations to encourage voter turnout.” Phoenix Correct. The majority of closures happened in areas of color and the poor. In majority-minority urban counties, voters lost an average of seven polling places and more than 200 of the workers who help them cast ballots between 2012 and 2016. In more than 1,000 counties where 90% or more of the population is white, voters in 2016 only lost two polling locations and two workers on average. USAToday In 2018, I remember hearing about one polling station that was moved 18 miles out of town. You can’t tell me that… Read more »

Screwtape
Member

Phoenix,

I agree. They are flimsy excuses.

A simple solution would be to extend voting hours.
Another might be to make site polling places where they are most available to the majority of people.
Those TRULY wanting to vote might arrange for carpools, use mass transit, etc. if available.
Push for mail-in ballots.

The question again: how badly do you really want to vote? It’s ONE day. It’s announced LONG IN ADVANCE.

Screwtape
Member

Phyllis,

I don’t have your Beto-luxury of time to follow all things political. Please provide details on the voter fraud in NC.

Screwtape
Member

Phoenix,

My beliefs are not involved. The article says it.

Screwtape
Member

Just like those who complain about crossing state lines for abortions, buying fireworks/liquor/etc. voting boils down to “Exactly how bad(ly) do you want it?” This is extremely pertinent to voter ID, where a hypothetical person has no driver license, Social Security #, birth certificate, etc. Is this person homeless? Is there a substantial reason a person, with at least a year’s notice (because elections are regular occurrences) cannot obtain legal ID? They must not want to vote. A substantial # of states allow illegal invaders to get driver licenses. What is a valid excuse for ANY citizen who really wants… Read more »

Screwtape
Member

“Moving or closing a polling place, particularly without notice or input from communities, disrupts our democracy. It can mean the choice between picking up a child from school or voting.”

Gupta is shallow-thinking. He can either push for funding to make ballots (with strict voter ID) available by mail or make sure there is money to keep polling places in place.

Screwtape
Member

Why isn’t the “muh democracy” crowd rejoicing at this news? The states mentioned don’t count in their schemes if they want to eliminate the electoral college.

This is where their lie becomes apparent. Either they want
1. herd-rule by the most populous states where these votes are ignored or suppressed or
2. they care that everyone gets to vote and has a voice in elections.

They cannot have it both ways. They must be less contradictory and confused in their message.

Screwtape
Member

Per the article there are at least two factors affecting the closings of polling places:
1. budgets
2. accessibility for the handicapped.

IF those claiming that this is voter discrimination care to put their monies where they eat they’d start a fund to ensure they remain open OR ensure that their Congress critters fund these sites.

FILE PHOTO: An employee prepares to serve a burger at a fast food restaurant in Nice, France, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

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