Five Texas counties rank among the top 10 nationwide for closing the greatest percentage of their polling places since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, according to a new report released less than a week before Election Day. And taken together, Texas counties have closed more polling places than any other state, the report found. According to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a civil rights advocacy group, since the high court found Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional — ruling that Texas and other states with history of racial discrimination no longer needed federal pre-clearance when changing election laws — Texas counties have closed at least 403 polling places. This will be the first election in 50 years conducted without the full force of the Voting Rights Act. Fisher, Medina, Aransas and Coke and Irion counties ranked the highest in polling place reductions, closing more than half of their voting locations. In terms of total polling places closed, Texas is followed by Arizona, which closed 202 polling places. Louisiana holds third place, with 103 poll closures.
Under Section 5, the federal government had to pre-clear voting changes — such as closing or moving a polling place — in states with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to make sure the change did not disenfranchise minority voters. After the court threw out that requirement in Shelby County v. Holder, poll closures have gone “unnoticed, unreported, and unchallenged,” according to the report.
“The loss of Section 5 means that there is no process to ensure that reductions are disclosed to the public, are conducted with the input of impacted communities, and do not discriminate against voters of color,” the report said.
But some Texas county election officials counter that, in many cases, voting has become easier because voters can now cast ballots at any voting location, not just their assigned precinct.