Southern states have closed 1,200 polling places since Supreme Court gutted voting rights
States across the South have, with little fanfare, closed hundreds of polling places, largely in minority communities. It's voter suppression, but it's flying under the radar.
All this is happening because of Chief Justice John Roberts, a man who made it his life's work to dismantle the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Six years ago, in Shelby v. Holder, a 5-4 decision authored by Roberts, the Supreme Court eliminated the core of the VRA.
Before Shelby, nine states located primarily in the South — Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, and Alaska — with a longtime history of racial discrimination were required to "preclear" with the Department of Justice (DOJ) any changes to their election laws. The DOJ had the authority to block those states from changing their laws in a discriminatory fashion.
After the VRA was gutted, those nine states were free to pass restrictive election laws, which many of them immediately did. They were also free to change where polling places are located.
A new report, Democracy Diverted, from The Leadership Conference Education Fund examined 757 of the 860 counties that were covered by pre-clearance requirements. They found that since Shelby, nearly 1200 polling places in those counties, mostly in minority communities, have been shuttered.
That's because the Shelby decision changed the rules about notifying voters of polling place closures in pre-clearance counties. Before, officials had to prove that the poll closure wouldn't disproportionately affect people of color by giving the DOJ data about the racial impact of the closures. Then, the DOJ reached out to the affected communities to learn about what the effect of the proposed poll change would be.
Post-Shelby, jurisdictions don't have to tell voters they're making any changes to where polls are located, nor do they have to give the DOJ any data to determine if the racial impact is discriminatory.
Texas alone accounts for nearly 50% of the closed polling places found in the study, having closed 750 polling places in the wake of Shelby. Georgia closed over 200 and Mississippi shuttered nearly 100. And there's no reason to think this will stop any time soon.
In part, that's because the closure of polling places is difficult to track. Except for South Carolina, none of the pre-clearance states have any laws governing polling place changes. Closures take place in the shadows, which means that it's almost impossible to intervene prior to an election or litigate effectively.
And, as the Democracy Diverted report notes, poll closures have a "cascading effect." When polls are closed in one location, there are long lines at other polling places, and resources like language assistance are overtaxed. It also creates "mass confusion" about where to cast a ballot.
Fewer voting places combined with confusion over where to vote and a lack of adequate voter assistance means that voting becomes much more difficult for voters of color, older voters, and voters with disabilities, among others.
Voting shouldn't be a hardship, but the dismantling of the VRA is making it so for people all across the South.
Published with permission of The American Independent. Attribution: Lisa Needham.