The 2013 Supreme Court decision nullifying federal “preclearance” requirements for states and local governments with a past history of discriminating against minority voters continues to have widespread repercussions as those same discriminatory states and counties methodically undertake efforts to once again make voting a more cumbersome and restricted process. A new Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights report once again seeks to quantify those acts, and once again finds that jurisdictions freed from prior preclearance requirements are shutting down their own polling places at an accelerated pace.
Updating a prior 2016 study, the Leadership Conference was now able to collect data for 757 of the 860 counties previously subject to preclearance. Those counties collectively shuttered nearly 1,700 polling places since the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder decision; most were justified under claims of “consolidating” polling locations.
Texas is the biggest state culprit in closing down polling locations. They’ve eliminated 750 since Shelby, part of a state Republican effort to “centralize” voting. The premise is to allow voters to vote at any open polling place … while closing them in large numbers. It may indeed be more convenient for voters to be able to choose which polling place to cast their ballots at, but for voters who lack transportation options—poor voters, rural voters, and residents of areas underserved by public transit—getting to any of them may be dramatically more difficult than it was six years ago. Whether that difficulty is an intentional effect of the closures or merely statewide Republican Party incompetence that absolutely none of them are eager to correct is, supposedly, debatable.
But it’s Georgia that has perhaps been the most shameless. “Georgia stands out because its counties have closed higher percentages of voting locations than any other state in our study,” say the authors.
The top five closers of polling places by percentage were Georgia counties: The top three counties in the state were Lumpkin (89 percent closed); Stephens (88 percent closed); and Warren, which is 61 percent African American (83 percent closed). Bacon County, which is 15 percent African American, and Butts County, which is 28 percent African American, tied with 80 percent closed. Seven counties with major polling place reductions now have only one polling site to serve hundreds of square miles.
It’s difficult to imagine a more overt effort to block voters from getting to the polls than closing down nine out of ten polling locations and telling county voters to pound sand if they don’t like it. Georgia Republicans appear to have reacted to the Shelby decision by rushing to pick up where the old Jim Crow laws left off, and in public statements have barely bothered to muster excuses for doing so.
This can be corrected by Congress, if they have the will to do so. The Supreme Court invalidated the preclearance requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because, prevailing justices proclaimed, those requirements were too old and efforts to disenfranchise minority voters were no longer systemic. But Congress can pass new preclearance requirements, if it so wished, barring these new efforts to systemically disenfranchise particular communities and restoring Voting Rights Act protections.
If they so choose. But it cannot happen while Republicans hold the Senate; it goes without saying that McConnell and other Republican senators have absolutely no interest in making it easier for either minorities or the non-wealthy to have a say in the nation’s democracy.