Five Prairie View A&M students, with the aid of the NAACP, are suing Waller County, Texas, arguing that the county’s decision not to allow early voting at the HBCU is suppressing the majority black and student populations’ ability to vote. While early voting officially began this past Monday in Texas, early voting at the Prairie View location will not start until next week, leaving only five days to vote before Election Day. Therefore, these five students contend that the county violated their civil rights, specifically the Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit asks for voting hours in Prairie View to be changed to either October 25th through November 2nd from 7 AM to 7PM or October 25th and October 26th to have 7 AM to 7 PM hours. The students also request for the polls to be open Saturday October 27th and Sunday October 28th as well for easy student access.
Waller County is allowing only five days of early voting at Prairie View, less than other locations in the county, including Hempstead, Waller, and Brookshire. Waller, a majority white city, has two early voting locations within the first week, allowing for an additional six days of early voting.
The Commissioners Court, who runs the county’s election process, claim that they did not want voting to interfere with Prairie View A&M’s homecoming, however, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2, dismissing students’ attempts to change the early voting plan in Prairie View.
Waller County has been attempting to limit the voting power of the black residents and students in Prairie View and Prairie View A&M for decades according to the NAACP deputy director of litigation for the legal defense. Since 1979, there have been three cases, one of which reached the U.S. Supreme Court, over Waller County attempting to prevent students from voting: in 1979, the Supreme Court ordered Waller County could not require students to fill out a residency questionnaire in order to vote; in 2003, the Waller County District Attorney unsuccessfully argued that students did not meet the residency requirements to vote; in 2008 the U.S. Justice Department ended invalid registration practices in Waller County that negatively targeted and affected students.
Voter suppression tactics, similar to the one in Prairie View, are also occurring in other states, such as Georgia, during the 2018 midterm elections.
Media Resources: Houston Chronicle 10/24/2018; NBC News 10/24/2018