Students at Prairie View A&M Claim County Violates Voting Rights Act

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Students at Prairie View A&M University are among the latest Texans to demand a remedy for ongoing voter discrimination.

Priscilla Barbour, the Student Government Association president of the university, recently sent a letter to Texas Secretary of State John Steen explaining how the lack of voting locations on campus violates Section II of the Voting Rights Act.

Over 8,000 students are enrolled at the historically black university, yet the polling location for state and federal elections is located a mile away. Without access to transportation, voting is time-consuming and difficult for students.

Despite repeated pleas from students, Waller County refuses to open a polling location on the school's campus.



Read more about the students' letter to state officials after the jump.Waller County is a case study in the necessity of federal approval of voting laws in Texas.

The county was subject to a lawsuit after it began rejecting voter registration applications for no legitimate reasons. The Department of Justice forced the county to terminate its discriminatory policies.

In 2006, hundreds of Prairie View students were subjected to unnecessary wait times because their names had mysteriously disappeared from the county's election rosters.

Thousands of Prairie View students marched seven miles to the County Courthouse in 2008 in protest of the county's encroachment on voting rights.

And now, the county refuses to provide a convenient polling place for the Prairie View A&M students, many of whom are people of color.

“Students have been faced with an extensive wait period that unfortunately prevented them from voting due to time conflicts with classes,” Barbour wrote in the letter.

She also emphasized that students with physical disabilities faced even more undue obstructions to voting.

In the letter, Barbour said that the city of Prairie View provides polling places on the university's campus grounds for citywide elections. Still, the Waller County Elections Office claims that the school's student center cannot accommodate an election.

For students, a convenient and accessible polling location is particularly essential. Class schedules complicate plans to leave campus to vote, especially when polling places are overcrowded.

Texas Secretary of State John Steen, appointed by Gov. Perry in 2012, has not yet responded to the students' requests. However, his spokeswoman claimed that Steen is not responsible to the students. She redirected them to the Waller County Elections Office, which has repeatedly denied their appeals.

Nonetheless, the Elections Division of the Office of the Secretary of the State is the ultimate authority over Texas elections and voter registration. If the county continues to refuse Prairie View students a polling place, it is Steen's responsibility to intervene.

Racially motivated county policies and a lack of state oversight have made voting exceedingly complex for thousands of students — not to mention the additional burden of the voter ID law, which was struck down before Shelby v. Holder.

Waller County's history of unfair voting practices is one of a myriad of reasons why Texas still needs protection from voting rights infringements.

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About Author

Natalie San Luis

Natalie is a native Texan, a feminist, and a writer, focusing on reproductive justice, race, and pop culture. When she's not writing (and sometimes when she is), she's brewing beer, drinking beer, and reading stuff on the Internet. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, xoJane, The Billfold, Culturemap, and E3W Review of Books. She tweets from @nsanluis.

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