Transition to Centralized Polling Centers in Texas Suppresses Black and Latinx Voting
A civil rights organization, the Leadership Conference Education Fund, has determined that 750 polling sites have closed in the state of Texas since 2012. As Richard Salame reported for the Guardian in March 2020, these closures “could exacerbate Texas’s already chronically low voter turnout rates,” benefitting the Republican Party. Texas is closing polling sites all across the state, but especially in areas where the black and Latinx populations are growing most rapidly.
Salame reported that the fifty counties with the highest growth rate of black and Latinx populations from 2012 to 2018 had shut down 542 voting sites, while the fifty counties with the lowest growth rates of Black and Latinx residents only had 34 closures.
Between 2012 and 2018, Texas closed 44% of its polling places, even though the state’s population was growing. With closures, the ratios went from 4,000 residents per polling site to 7,700 per site. Some cities like Houston have closed more than sixty percent of their polling sites, falling below statutory minimums. The majority of the locations that closed were in Latinx and black neighborhoods which forced voters to travel further to cast their vote.
In a 2019 research article, two political scientists from the University of Houston, Jeronimo Cortina and Brandon Rottinghaus, reported that a disproportionately higher number of polling locations were shut down in Latinx communities, and that Latinx individuals were required to travel further to cast their vote than white individuals. People are less likely to vote if they have to travel farther to do so.
As of Super Tuesday in 2020, the Texas Tribune reported that just 25 percent of Texas’s registered voters cast ballots in this year’s primary election. Texas uses an open primary system, so voters decide at the polls whether to vote in the Democratic or Republican contest. For the first time since 2008, more Texans voted in the Democratic presidential primary than in the Republican primary, the Texas Tribune reported—though the difference was slight, amounting to less than one percent of voters.
Texas has introduced centralized, countywide vote centers as alternatives to traditional community-based polling stations. Mary Duty, an official for the McLennan County Democratic Party, told the Guardian that the shift to vote centers has “turned out to be kind of a nightmare.” Large areas of McLennon County had no voting locations as a result. According to the Guardian’s report activists expressed concern that closing polling stations due to low turnout has discriminatory impacts.
Despite the growing importance of Texas as a swing state in national politics, as of March 22, 2020, the only news sources reporting on this story were local.
Richard Salame, “Texas Closes Hundreds of Polling Sites, Making It Harder for Minorities to Vote,” The Guardian, March 2, 2020, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/02/texas-polling-sites-closures-voting.
Alexa Ura and Mandi Cai, “Just a Quarter of Registered Voters in Texas Participated in the 2020 Presidential Primary,” Texas Tribune, March 6, 2020, https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/06/just-quarter-registered-voters-texas-participated-2020-primary/.
Student Researchers: Rebecca Herbert, Ciara Lockwood, Ryan Silk, and Joshua Wielgosz
(University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Review Article with Credder