Access is power

Assuming minority voters have successfully jumped through all the right hoops to have the correct identification AND not been discouraged from showing up because of gerrymandered districts, there is yet another hurdle to face: the polls.

In recent years, thousands of polls have been closed down, with the impact disproportionately impacting minority voters.

“In majority-minority urban counties, voters lost an average of seven polling places and more than 200 of the workers who help them cast ballots between 2012 and 2016.

“And, the dearth of places to vote was far worse in some big cities. Election administrators in Chicago’s Cook County closed or moved 95 polling places; Los Angeles County closed 88 sites, and Houston’s Harris County eliminated 27.

“By contrast, in more than 1,000 counties where 90% or more of the population is white, voters in 2016 lost two polling locations and two workers on average.”

Using data from the US Census Bureau and the Election Administration and Voting Survey, USA Today created an interactive map showing the number of active voters per polling place in the 2016 election:

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 3.30.08 PM

Carol Anderson gives other examples in her article “Voting while black”: In Indiana, post 2008, “the Republican-dominated legislature mandated that counties with more than 325,000 residents could only have one early voting location unless approved on a bi-partisan basis… Once again, the targeting was clear. Only three counties in Indiana have more than 325,000 people and account for 72% of the state’s black population.”

States have also been moving toward consolidated voting centers that can serve more people but are located further apart, hurting those without access to transit. And even the act of changing polling locations can be enough to dissuade voters from turning out. And many minorities get to the polls only to find their names erased: they have been the victim of a voter roll purge.

A survey by The Atlantic and PRRI found that “In all, across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced those barriers as white respondents.”

Limited poll access also contributes to long lines and wait times, things that are frustrating at best and democracy-breaking at worst. Those with the fewest resources are the least able to wait around to exercise their right to vote. Taking away early voting locations further harms those who cannot miss work during the week.

“In 2012, on average, blacks had to wait in line twice as long as whites,” Anderson writes in her book. “The conditions that bring about five-hour wait times, or thousands standing in line, or only forty people able to get through and cast their ballots after three hours, are concentrated overwhelmingly in minority precincts.”

“Minority neighborhoods, despite their population density, have been allocated significantly fewer resources by election officials.”

Action item time: Do some more research. Check your county’s early voting process, and how it has changed over the past few elections. Look at other areas around you. When are the polls open, and for how many days leading up to the election? In the most recent election, think: How did you get to the polls, and how might others? What is public transit like near you to get to your polling place? What if you lived farther away? What if it suddenly closed?

Header image by Committee of Seventy/WHYY “Next Stop: Democracy.

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