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Voter Suppression Widespread as 1,688 Polling Places Closed since 2013

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Although elections analysts from both Democratic and Republican organizations anticipate that the 2020 elections will see unprecedented numbers of voters, there will be fewer polling places in 2020 than in previous elections. As Mike Ludwig reported for Truthout, a report from the Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) found that at least 1,688 polling sites in thirteen states have been closed since the Supreme Court “gutted a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act,” in its 2013 decision in Shelby vs. Holder. “For many people, and particularly for voters of color, older voters, rural voters, and voters with disabilities,” the LCEF study reported, “these burdens make it harder—and sometimes impossible—to vote.”

As Ludwig’s Truthout report explained, until Shelby vs. Holder, the Voting Rights Act required nine states and jurisdictions in six other states to notify voters of any planned poll closures ahead of time; local election officials also had to prove to elections overseers in the Justice Department that voting changes would not discriminate against voters of color. The “preclearance” section of the Voting Rights Act had been implemented to counter long histories of voter discrimination, sometimes dating back to the Jim Crow era, in those states and jurisdictions.  (Project Censored previously covered how Shelby vs. Holder led to suppressed voter turnout in the 2016 presidential election.)

Although many of the polling site closures have occurred since the 2014 midterm elections, in 2018, when midterm voter turnout was at a high, there were 1,173 fewer polling stations in the states affected by Shelby vs. Holder than there had been in 2014, according to “Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote,” the Leadership Conference Education Fund’s report. Closing of polling stations disproportionately affects voters in rural areas, those with disabilities, people with lower incomes, and people of color.

“Decisions to shutter polling places are often made quietly and without public notice, making intervention virtually impossible,” Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, told Truthout. “And without preclearance protections, states are under no obligation to evaluate the discriminatory impacts of such closures.”

Voter ID laws have made national headlines, but according to civil rights groups the establishment press has done little to make the public aware of the closing of polling locations in many of the same states, Ludwig reported. In September 2019, USA Today covered the Leadership Conference Education Fund study’s findings, but otherwise coverage of the LCEF’s report appears to have been limited to local news outlets, such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the San Antonio Current, and others.

Source: Mike Ludwig, “More People Are Voting – But 1,688 Polling Places Have Closed in 6 Years,” Truthout, September 12, 2019, https://truthout.org/articles/more-people-are-voting-but-1688-polling-places-have-closed-in-6-years/.

Student Researcher: Gustavo Meza (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: James Dean (Sonoma State University)

Review Article with Credder