In the five years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities. The trend continues: This year alone, 10 counties with large black populations in Georgia closed polling spots after a white elections consultant recommended they do so to save money. When the consultant suggested a similar move in Randolph County, pushback was enough to keep its nine polling places open. But the closures come amid a tightening of voter ID laws in many states that critics view as an effort to make it harder for blacks and other minorities to vote — and, in Georgia specifically, the high-profile gubernatorial bid by a black woman. The ballot in November features Stacey Abrams, a Democrat trying to become the first black woman elected governor in the United States, versus Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state who has led efforts in Georgia to purge voter rolls, slash early voting and close polling places.
Local officials across the country shuttered 868 polling places in the three years after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling, according to a 2016 report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the research arm of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 civil rights groups.
Arizona, Louisiana and Texas, the report said, “have all made alarming reductions in polling places.”
“We are now seeing the fallout of that ruling,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Polling places have often been used as political tools to shape the outcome of elections. Officials can reduce the voter participation of certain groups by eliminating polling places, and increase participation in other groups by placing precincts in key neighborhoods.
But it’s not just the number of polling places that affect voter outcomes. Moving voters to different voting environments also may affect how they vote.