March 22, 2023

RIGHT TO VOTE: Texas forced to open additional polling places by court order

RIGHT TO VOTE: Texas forced to open additional polling places by court order

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The fight against voter suppression scored a win after a judge ordered Bexar County, Texas to open an additional 129 polling places on election day. A lawsuit filed by the voting rights group, Texas Organizing Project (TOP) seeking a temporary injunction preventing the County from reducing polling locations ahead of the November election was granted on Tuesday.

The complaint names Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and severs members of Bexar County Commissioners, alleging that the decision to close nearly three dozen polling places on election day is in violation of the Texas Election Code – and the presiding judge agreed, saying, “With more registered voters in Bexar County than ever before, the November 8, 2022, general election is projected to set record turnout for a midterm election. This comes amidst recently enacted laws that also make voting more complicated than ever.”

In today’s order granting the plaintiff’s motion for a temporary injunction, the judge concluded that the “[d]efendants [must] adopt a methodology for choosing countywide polling locations that, absent a lawful combination of election precincts by the Commissioners Court, includes operating a minimum of 388 Election Day polling locations on November 8, 2022 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m,” Democracy Docket reported.

Texas Election Code mandates a 50% threshold in the number of countywide polling places based on the number of precincts, and Texas’ fourth largest county has 776, making the 267 proposed by the County Commissioners far less than state law requires.

The presiding judge acknowledged the importance of access and the ability to exercise one’s right to vote, writing:

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“Now, when it is most important to facilitate voters’ free exercise of their fundamental right to vote, the Bexar County Elections Department has decided to close Election Day polling locations, in violation of the Texas Election Code, and operate fewer locations than it did in 2014, 2016, 2018, or 2020. This is despite having been successfully sued for a similar attempt to close polling locations in 2020, resulting in an Order requiring the County to operate additional locations for that election. These closures are not merely ill-advised for the safety and convenience of all voters, but they will once again contravene the legal framework for establishing polling places and were adopted as part of an illegal process that negatively impacts minority voters, in violation of explicit provisions of the Texas Election Code. Unfortunately, this fits a pattern of legal violations spanning years, in which Bexar County has operated hundreds of fewer polling locations than it was required to.”

The county was also ordered to solicit the input of members of marginalized communities — or those acting on their behalf — if participating in the allowed County Wide Polling Place Program, CWPPP, which allows voters to cast their ballot at any polling place in the county, regardless of their residency within that district.

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“A county must adopt a methodology for determining where each polling place will be located.” TEX. ELEC. CODE § 43.007(f). In adopting this methodology, the county is required to “solicit input from organizations or persons located within the county who represent minority voters.”

This is a huge win for TOP, founded in 2009 by voting rights advocates with the goal of solidifying the Black and Latino vote in some of Texas’ largest counties with some of the largest black and brown voting populations – and marginalized voters across the state who’ve had their voices suppressed.

At TOP we fight with two fists. We organize around issue-­based campaigns, winning tangible improvements for our communities. We then mobilize our members and supporters around electoral campaigns, effectively increasing voter participation in communities that historically have had low voting rates.Their grassroots efforts to educate and register voters have paid off, and this latest ruling.

Since ex-President Trump’s claims of mass voter fraud took hold, and with his merry band of election deniers echoing his baseless and debunked lies, the GOP has tripled down on its efforts to suppress the Democratic vote. But the people are fighting back – and winning.

Original reporting by Democracy Docket.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.

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