More than 1,600 polling places around the country have closed since the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
In 2013, the court scrapped a portion of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of voter discrimination to “preclear” any election changes with the federal government. Southern states immediately responded to the ruling by passing voter restricting laws and restructuring their election systems, Mother Jones reported. The move also led to mass closures of polling places.
According to a report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, 1,688 polling places have closed since the decision and the vast majority of them have come in southern states.
According to the report, 1,173 polling places in states covered by the Voting Rights Act have been closed since the Supreme Court decision. Arizona has shuttered 1 in 5 polling locations. In Georgia, seven counties now have just one polling site. In all, 39% of counties in states covered by the VRA have reduced the number of polling places.
“Next to the ballot itself, the most identifiable element of our democracy’s voting process is the polling place. It should—and it must—be accessible to all,” the report says. “When it is not, the barriers to participation can be high. Moving or closing a polling place— particularly without notice or input from communities—disrupts our democracy.”
Texas closed most polling places:
Texas, which had been constrained by the VRA, closed 750 polling places since the ruling.
Arizona has closed 320 polling sites. Georgia has shuttered 214 polling places.
“The report also uncovered polling places closing ‘without clear notice or justification’ in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and Alaska,” Mother Jones reported. “The states did so without any notice or transparency about how or why the decision was made. In Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and North Carolina, news reports of these polling place closures were ‘often met with silence from elected officials.’”
“By far, the most common justification for closing polling places was no justification at all,” the report said. “Local officials who did offer an explanation often cited pretexts, such as budget constraints, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), school safety concerns, limited parking, changes in voter turnout, or even simple logic. As one election commissioner from Mississippi put it, sometimes closing polling places ‘just makes sense.’”
Moves could suppress vote in minority communities:
Some states argued that they closed sites because they switched to a “vote center” model, where voters can vote at any location and aren’t assigned a specific polling place.
“It’s a model that’s meant to make it easier to access a polling place, but often it has the opposite effect: low voter turnout, especially in minority communities,” Mother Jones reported.
“Our hope is that journalists, advocates, and voters will use this county-level polling place data to scrutinize the impact of poll closures in their communities,” the report said, “to understand their impact on voters of color, and to create a fairer and more just electoral system for all.”