Racial demographic changes in Texas over the last decade have led political experts and activists to view the state, once considered a conservative stronghold, as a battleground state. But as Texas’ electoral power becomes increasingly contested, polling stations have closed at a pace that has eclipsed every other state in the country.
As reported by The Guardian, the civil rights group The Leadership Conference Education Fund found that since 2012, Texas has closed 750 polling stations. And according to a follow-up Guardian analysis, “the places where the black and Latinx population is growing by the largest numbers have experienced the vast majority of the state’s poll site closures.”
This includes McLennan County, Texas, home to Waco and Baylor University, which grew by an estimated 15,000 people between 2012 and 2018. Black and Latinx residents comprised more than two-thirds of that growth. But polling stations or resources didn’t grow in that period—in fact, 44 percent of the county’s polling places closed during the same time period.
From The Guardian:
The analysis finds that the 50 counties that gained the most Black and Latinx residents between 2012 and 2018 closed 542 polling sites, compared to just 34 closures in the 50 counties that have gained the fewest black and Latinx residents. This is despite the fact that the population in the former group of counties has risen by 2.5 million people, whereas in the latter category the total population has fallen by over 13,000.
These closures come in the wake of the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which once required states with a history of voter suppression (like Texas) to do mandatory racial-impact analysis to ensure any policy or structural changes didn’t disproportionately impact minority voters.
Since then, Texas has moved away from assigning registered voters to specific polling places to using “voting centers.” These centers have bipartisan support because they allow voters to cast a ballot at any polling station in their county.
But as The Guardian points out, Texas state law allows a county that moves toward using voting centers to cut by half the number of polling stations they would have used in a traditional system. The first polling stations to be cut are ones deemed to have low turnout or low accessibility.
This results in minority neighborhoods with disengaged voters becoming further separated from the process, some voting rights activists argue. While centers may make it easier for folks to vote from anywhere in the county, that advantage is curtailed by the fact that those polling stations are fewer and further between.
And we can all take a good guess for whom they will be the furthest.