Texas Leads Nation in Polling Closures

A polling station sign left on the ground (Pixabay).

A polling station sign left on the ground (Pixabay).

Texas has closed 750 polling locations, more than any other state, since 2013 in what many activists consider a widespread voter suppression effort.

Texas has a long history of voter suppression. Adopting poll taxes in 1871 and excluding African Americans from voting in primaries in 1922, Texas’s history of voter suppression led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), part of which required federal approval before enacting new voting laws.

However, in a 5-4 vote along party-lines, the Supreme Court ruled that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) forced federal intervention in counties where doing so was no longer necessary in Shelby County v. Holder (2013).  

“With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” said Governor Greg Abbott (then Attorney General of Texas) after the Supreme Court decision Many voting rights activists cite Texas’s strict Voter I.D. laws as an example of persistent widespread voter suppression.

State Representative Rafael Anchia, a Democrat from Dallas, expressed his criticism plainly, arguing, “Our view today is the same as it has been since the first day of this litigation — Texas’ voter ID law is discriminatory.”

Since Shelby County v. Holder, Texas leads every other state in polling location closures. Notably, four of the counties with the most closures are also three of the most diverse counties in the state, with high numbers of Latino and African American voters. Those counties—Brazoria, Harris, Travis, and Dallas—were among the top closers in the nation, closing 74, 67, 53, and 37 polling places respectively.   

In fact, closures from the Lone Star state account for nearly half of nationwide polling discontinuations since 2013.

These closures come at a time when Texas has received significant political attention. A historically red state, numerous polls now show President Donald Trump trailing some Democratic presidential hopefuls in the Lone Star state. 

Still, some voting advocates argue that the closures do not necessarily mean voting will be more difficult. Texas has begun shifting from polling places to voting centers, which allow voters to go to any voting center in the county rather than just their local polling place. Still, many other advocates fear longer lines, coupled with strict voter ID laws, will deter voters of color.

Beth Stevens, a voting rights director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, sharply criticized the policy, claiming, “Texas is at the forefront of inventing new ways to suppress the vote—ways that other states often imitate.”