Texas leads nation in polling location closures

Victoria May

With over 750 polling locations shuttered throughout the state, Texas has closed the most polling places in the nation since 2012, according to a new report released by The Leadership Conference Education Fund on Sept. 10.  

In 2012, a Supreme Court ruling said states no longer had to get preapproval from the federal government before making changes to the election process. Following this ruling, Texas has closed hundreds of its polling locations.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund is an education and research initiative led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a civil and human rights coalition according to their website. The report said many counties that close polling locations engage in “potentially discriminatory” relocations or closures. However, the report also said there are legitimate reasons for relocation or closure, such as population decreases or a reduced demand for in-person voting.

Travis County has closed 67 locations since the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, according to Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. She said she thinks the report is incredibly important.

“(The report is) right about so many things,” DeBeauvoir said. “The Supreme Court should have never gotten rid of the Voting Rights Act, especially Section 5 that deals with preclearance, because that’s the part that has always protected voters in Texas from Texas’ very long-standing habit of discrimination against voters.”

DeBeauvoir said Travis County has closed some locations in an effort to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, moving
locations to be within five minutes of a public transit line.

“Polling places must be accessible to all,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said in a statement. “Moving or closing a polling place — particularly without considering the impact on communities of color — disrupts our democracy.”

DeBeauvoir said Travis County is implementing voting centers, which provide a place for people to vote regardless of where they live in the county. She said this is in contrast to polling locations, which can only be used by people living in a specific district.

“I remember being a kid and seeing my mom bending over backwards to get to the church that we would vote at before polling locations closed,” nutrition sophomore Gabrielle Capesius said. “Now that I vote, I can’t imagine only being able to go to one place without any exceptions.”

Unlike polling locations, voting centers are places throughout the county all residents of Travis County can use. 

Although Gupta said she saw voting centers as a step in the right direction, the report still said officials need to use caution when implementing these new centers.

“Though intended to make voting more efficient and convenient, this law allows counties to make deep and immediate cuts to polling places and has no required safeguards to protect voters of color from discrimination,” the report said.

The 60 counties that participate in the voting center program are responsible for two-thirds of Texas’ polling place closures, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“As a college student, without voting centers I probably wouldn’t vote because of a lack of access,” Capesius said. “No one should feel like their voice cannot be heard just because they don’t have easy access to voting.”