New Report Documents 868 Polling Place Closures in Former VRA Preclearance States

Categories: Press Releases, Voting Rights

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shin Inouye, 202.869.0398, inouye@civilrights.org

WASHINGTON – Today, The Leadership Conference Education Fund released its report, The Great Poll Closure, which documents how states and counties with records of voting discrimination—both current and historic—have closed hundreds of polling places since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and eliminated federal oversight of their voting changes.

The report is based on a study of 381 of the approximately 800 counties that were covered by Section 5 of the VRA before the Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. According to an analysis of the study, voters in these counties will have at least 868 fewer places to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential elections than they did in past elections, a 16 percent reduction.

Of the 381 counties studied, 165 of them – 43 percent – have reduced voting locations. Some states have closed polling places on a massive scale. In Arizona, almost every county reduced polling places. In Louisiana, 61 percent of parishes reduced polling places. And in samplings of counties in Texas and Alabama, about half closed polling places. The report also looked at polling closures in Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In advance of the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA, the nation has been subject to a resurgence of state and local measures to disenfranchise voters of color.

“Polling place closures are a particularly common and pernicious tactic for disenfranchising voters of color,” the report states. “Prior to the Shelby decision there was a process to ensure that jurisdictions known to engage in voting discrimination weren’t using budget cuts or voter modernization as cover to disenfranchise people of color. … In a world without Section 5, that process – that protection for minority voters – has ceased.”

Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said, “While there are legitimate reasons to reduce polling places and processes that election officials can engage in to ensure that consolidations are implemented equitably, without the full powers of the VRA, we have no transparency and no idea why polling places are being closed or changed, nor do we have any idea how those moves effect minority voters. After Shelby, the vast majority of closures have gone unnoticed, unreported, and unchallenged.”

The Leadership Conference Education Fund urges voters to make a plan to vote before Election Day. The 866-OUR-VOTE Election Protection hotline, which is led by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, can help voters find their polling place, as can Vote411.org, which is a project of the League of Women Voters.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund builds public will for federal policies that promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. The Education Fund’s campaigns empower and mobilize advocates around the country to push for progressive change in the United States. It was founded in 1969 as the education and research arm of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.