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how the gutting of the voting rights act led to hundreds of bankrupt polls

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In 2013, the Absolute Cloister gutted the amount of one of the consummate achievements of the civilian rights movement: the Voting Rights Act. The 1965 bill, propelled by the celebrated advance of protestors from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, clearly put an end to the articulacy tests, poll taxes, and voting restrictions that had blank millions of boyhood voters for decades. And it went added than that: it additionally appropriate areas of the country with a history of application these abominable approach to get federal approval afore authoritative any changes to voting.

But in Shelby Canton v. Holder , the cloister accustomed these areas of the country chargeless administration over voting rules already again. For the aboriginal time back 1965, bounded admiral could now aing acclamation or change voting laws afterwards the permission of the federal government. In the 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts adumbrated that the problems of systemic racism and aborigine bigotry were allotment of a ancient era: The Act’s rules, he wrote, were “based on decades-old abstracts and eradicated practices.”

At the time, critics feared that bounded and accompaniment governments aback freed to canyon voting laws afterwards blank would alpha to apparatus across-the-board abominable policies; others warned of small, localized changes, such as closing polling places in neighborhoods breadth minorities vote.

Now, an absolute assay by VICE News has begin that these worries were justified. In the years afterward the Shelby decision, jurisdictions already accountable to federal administration shut down, on average, about 20 percent added polling stations per capita than jurisdictions in the blow of the country. There are now 10 percent added bodies per polling abode in the formerly-supervised areas than in the blow of the country.

Furthermore, aural 18 counties in 13 states advised at a diminutive level, abounding of the bankrupt acclamation were in neighborhoods with ample boyhood populations. This assay is the aboriginal attack to attending nationally at poll closures back the affection of the Voting Rights Act was removed.

The jurisdictions appropriate to abide voting changes to the Department of Justice or the federal commune cloister in D.C. were alleged based on a blueprint that looked at whether they had anytime acclimated any tests or accessories for race-based discrimination. The blueprint additionally took into anniversary whether beneath than 50 percent of acceptable voters in these areas — states, counties, and towns, overwhelmingly in the South — were registered by November 1964.

In 1970 and 1975 the Absolute Cloister broadcast the Voting Rights Act’s aegis to accommodate voting bigotry adjoin bodies of “language boyhood groups.” This added Arizona, Texas, and Alaska in their entirety, as able-bodied as genitalia of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

This all concluded back the Absolute Cloister disqualified in Shelby that the blueprint acclimated to actuate those jurisdictions no best reflected accepted voting conditions. The accommodation accustomed 846 jurisdictions to close, move or change the availability of bounded polling places afterwards federal blank — a accommodation generally larboard to a distinct acclamation official.

With the amplification of aboriginal voting and voting by mail, there are accurate affidavit for counties to aing or consolidate polling places that accept annihilation to do with discrimination. Beyond the country, added than 2,000 polling places bankrupt amid the 2012 and 2016 accepted elections.

But VICE News begin that for every 10 polling places that bankrupt in the blow of the country, 13 bankrupt aural the jurisdictions already beneath oversight. Behavior that acquaint barriers to voting — like Texas’ austere aborigine ID requirements and North Carolina’s aishment of same-day allotment and banned on aboriginal voting — accept been broadly criticized for atramentous boyhood voters, who disproportionately vote Democratic. The all-inclusive majority of the jurisdictions already beneath federal administration are in states with GOP leadership.

“I anticipate what we’re seeing [are] modern-day form[s] of aborigine aishment that are still occurring, and while they are not as arrant or as credible as articulacy tests or poll taxes, they are about abbreviating participation,” said Rep. Terri Sewell, an Alabama Democrat.

The bodies best abounding by changes that accomplish it added difficult to vote are poorer and added acceptable to be bodies of color. Poll closures can admission biking time and the breadth of lines. Low-income voters — who may not own cars and accept beneath time to allot to registering or continuing in band — may be clumsy to participate if the barriers are too difficult.

“It’s actual adamantine to allay this allegory that voting is declared to be burdensome,” said Leah Aden, a advocate at the NAACP Acknowledged Defense and Educational Fund. “There’s this apprehension that if you don’t jump over hurdles, you’re apathetic or you don’t appetite to participate — and I anticipate that’s abiding in racism and classism.”

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Rebekah T. Ello-Lewis, a Pascua Yaqui member, rides the bus from her catch to vote in Tucson, Arizona. Cassandra Giraldo for VICE News.

The #29 bus runs every 30 annual from the base stop alfresco of the Casino of the Sun, the abate of the two casinos amid on the Pascua Yaqui Native American reservation. A baby assurance taped to the base bank reads “CAST YOUR BALLOT EARLY!”

Rebekah T. Ello-Lewis, an abettor for aborigine outreach, didn’t apprehend anyone to biking off the catch to vote early, but she capital to apperceive what the eight-mile adventure on attainable busline entailed. The 29-year-old Pascua Yaqui mother catches the aboriginal of two buses about 11 a.m. and rides for bisected an hour, ambagious through collapsed arid roads. She transfers at the Laos Transit Centermost and pays the book again, benumbed for accession 30 annual afore extensive the Mission Library. It takes her beneath than two annual to casting her ballot; the one-way cruise took about an hour.

Since 2010, the Pascua Yaqui had hosted an aboriginal voting armpit on the reservation, a three-square-mile artifice of acreage about 15 afar alfresco of burghal Tucson, Arizona. But about a ages afore Arizona’s August primary election, the Pima Canton recorder’s appointment a affiliated leaders that they were affective one of the city’s 11 aboriginal voting locations off the reservation.

F. Ann Rodriguez, the Pima Canton recorder, cited low assembly abstracts as the acumen abaft her accommodation to aing the polling station. She said alone 44 voters casting a acclamation on the catch during the bristles canicule of aboriginal voting in 2016, compared with about 10,000 voters in the belt who casting a acclamation by mail (these abstracts accommodate both affiliated and nontribal voters).

“They [the Pascua Yaqui] aloof don’t like to go to the aboriginal voting site. They like to vote by mail, or they’re traditionalists,” Rodriguez said, implying that affiliated associates adopt to vote on Acclamation Day. Affiliated leaders, however, altercate that their contempo efforts to admission aborigine assembly were not taken into consideration. In March, they launched “Yaqui Vote,” captivation added than 40 aborigine beat and allotment contest this year.

Yaqui Vote attack materials. Cassandra Giraldo for VICE News.

“We’ve been alive so hard, and afresh for them to acquaint us this — for her to say it’s not abundant — it was affectionate of like they aloof agape aggregate out from beneath us,” said Letticia Baltazar, the tribe’s administrator of aborigine outreach.

The Pascua Yaqui still accept a polling abode attainable on Acclamation Day, but affiliated leaders feel the abatement of the aboriginal voting armpit wasn’t done with a able accomplishment to animate alternating methods of voting.

Left: The above aboriginal voting armpit on the Pascua Yaqui reservation. Right: The new aboriginal voting armpit at the Mission Library. Cassandra Giraldo for VICE News.

“I apperceive Pima Canton is absolutely counting on mail-in ballots, but afresh they accept to put some accomplishment into educating bodies about how to do that,” said Herminia Frias, a Pascua Yaqui lath member. Frias said abounding Yaqui voters either don’t apperceive they can vote by mail or are alien with the activity of requesting a mail ballot.

Between the 2012 and 2016 accepted elections, Pima Canton bankrupt 15 percent of its Acclamation Day polling locations, a bead that canton admiral abundantly aspect to the acceleration in aboriginal voting. About 70 percent of Pima Canton voters now casting a acclamation early, either by mail or at an aboriginal voting site.

Cassandra Giraldo for VICE News.

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Robert Valencia, the administrator of the tribe, said the accommodation by the recorder’s appointment acquainted evocative of back Native American voting rights were bound — they weren’t accepted abounding U.S. citizenship until 1924, and in Arizona Native Americans weren’t able to vote until 1948.

“The movement from the recorder’s appointment has been vote by mail. And that’s formed for Tucson in general, and so I anticipate they see the catch as no different,” said Frias. “But it is different. We are different.”

In 34 states, VICE News calm abstracts anon from a accompaniment ascendancy like the secretary of accompaniment or elections division. Four states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Utah — were afar from our assay because they are either absolutely or predominantly vote-by-mail and accept few concrete polling places. We additionally afar counties that advance a vote centermost model, in which voters can casting ballots at any breadth in the county.

In the 12 states breadth a accompaniment ascendancy was clumsy or did not accommodate data, we relied on the Acclamation Administration and Voting Survey. Polling abode abstracts can be inaccurate, in allotment because anniversary canton is amenable for advancement its own breadth abstracts and forwarding it to the accompaniment authority. In abounding cases, abstracts from the federal Acclamation Administration and Voting Assay did not bout the admonition from accompaniment or bounded authorities.

To added strengthen our data, we contacted alone canton or accompaniment authorities with over 50 polling abode closures, or ones that had afflicted their cardinal of polling places by added than 50 percent, in case there had been a recording error. The abstracts covers 94,790 polling places in 2012 and 92,740 in 2016, or about 90 percent of balloter jurisdictions — and accounts for 233 actor bodies in 2016, or added than 90 percent of the voting age population.

About a third of all counties that acclimated to be accountable to the Voting Rights Act bargain their per capita cardinal of polling places from 2012 to 2016, compared to alone a fifth of the blow of the jurisdictions. Rapidly growing states like Arizona and Georgia bankrupt about 150 polling places each, while a few states, including Virginia and South Carolina, opened added polling places.

But on balance, the jurisdictions freed from accepting to seek approval for closures shut down, on average, about 2.6 percent of their polling places from 2012 to 2016, while counties in the blow of the country bankrupt 2.0 percent.

Alternative methods of voting, either aboriginal or by mail, can admonition to annual closures by accouterment other, sometimes added convenient, options for voters whose polling places accept closed. Back 2012, 26 states accept allowable laws to aggrandize admission to voting — but alone four of those states were ones aforetime accountable to oversight, according to an anniversary assay of new voting laws by the Brennan Center.

Furthermore, abounding added bodies vote in being aural the counties ahead accountable to oversight, according to abstracts aggregate by MIT on 1,429 counties. Application their data, we begin that voters casting about 77 percent of their ballots in being on Acclamation Day in the counties aforetime accountable to oversight, compared to 61 percent alfresco of that area.

VICE News conducted a diminutive assay of 18 counties, analytical the biking times amid anniversary Census block accumulation and the aing polling place, acclimation for differences in car ownership. Aural some counties, a asymmetric cardinal of acclamation bankrupt in neighborhoods with ample boyhood populations.

In 11 jurisdictions, polling abode closures added the biking times for majority nonwhite blocks added than they afflicted majority white areas. The boilerplate biking time for mostly white neighborhoods was 21 abnormal best afterwards polling abode closures, while in boyhood neighborhoods it added by 46 seconds. In areas aforetime accountable to oversight, boilerplate biking times added by added than a minute for majority nonwhite neighborhoods.

In 17 of the 18 counties, at atomic one adjacency had an admission in boilerplate biking time of added than 5 minutes. (Neighborhoods averaged about 1,000 people.) These block groups were about two-thirds nonwhite.

And for about a division of bodies in these neighborhoods afterwards a car, the boilerplate biking time to the aing polling abode was over an hour. Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a assistant of acclamation and government law at the University of Chicago, said that the polling abode closures we analyzed could accept a “clear disparate impact” on boyhood voters.

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Some of the best arrant examples of counties closing a cogent allotment of their acclamation are in Arizona. Phoenix-area Maricopa Canton initially bargain its polling places by 70 percent afore the state’s 2016 primary election, dispatch a DOJ investigation. (They afterwards antipodal advance afore the accepted election, abating best of the absent polling places.) Mohave and Coconino counties akin dozens of polling places each, citation apropos about violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a abridgement of funding.

In Pima County, the breadth about Tucson, the aggregate of poll closures and movement added the biking time for majority nonwhite areas (29 seconds) by about 50 percent added than it added biking times for white areas (19 seconds).

The Carswell ancestors at home in Macon, Georgia. Allison McCann for VICE News.

In August, attorneys from the ACLU of Georgia were alerted to a angle to aing seven of nine polling places in the rural, predominantly atramentous Randolph County. The county’s lath of elections said the admonition to cut about 80 percent of poll locations came from an alfresco consultant, Michael Malone, who argued that the sites were not adjustable with the Americans with Disabilities Act (though no letters or abstracts accurate this assertion.)

The ACLU of Georgia threatened acknowledged action, and afterwards two acrimonious attainable meetings, the lath voted 2-0 adjoin the closures. Randolph Canton additionally accursed Malone. “We heard about Randolph Canton and we were able to stop them [from closing the polls], but there are 159 counties in Georgia,” said Sean Young, the acknowledged administrator of the ACLU of Georgia.

Three years earlier, in adjacent Macon-Bibb County, civilian rights organizations weren’t as successful. In 2012, Bibb Canton had 40 polling places. Two years later, the canton alloyed with the burghal of Macon, and in the process, “all departments were asked to cut their budgets,” said elections administrator Tom Gillon. In 2015, the anew formed Macon-Bibb Canton Lath of Elections proposed abbreviation the cardinal of polling places to 26, advertence that the closures would save them about $40,000 annually.

The bounded NAACP bound intervened, and an advising console was formed to alter the closures. “All of the places breadth they were proposing to aing acclamation were aural neighborhoods of low-income or majority atramentous people,” said Gwen Westbrooks, the admiral of the Macon-Bibb NAACP chapter.

The lath ultimately absitively to aing eight locations that year, and accession the following. Macon-Bibb Canton now has 31 polling places for about 100,000 registered voters, about 30 percent added voters per polling abode than the borough average.

Johnisha Carswell admired voting at Agnes Barden Elementary School, one of the eight locations that bankrupt in 2015. It was beneath than a mile from her home, and she could airing there with her three children. “It was attainable because we was demography the kids to academy and we could aloof stop on by and vote,” she said from her advanced door, watching her bedmate fix a collapsed tire.

The Carswells now vote at a abbey about two afar up the road, but it’s not calmly attainable by attainable transportation. The ancestors shares one car, which her bedmate Marcus Carswell usually takes to drive to work. In 2016, Johnisha got a ride from her mom to go and vote.

“I anticipate our job is aloof mainly to accomplish abiding you’re registered and arise vote. And we can’t absolutely get into, ‘OK, you don’t accept a car,’” said Jeanetta Watson, the elections supervisor. Watson makes recommendations to the five-person Lath of Elections, who ultimately adjudge back to aing or consolidate polls. “We do booty that [public transportation] into consideration, but I don’t anticipate there are bus curve a a lot of our polling locations.”

Left: The Central Abbey of Christ, a above polling place. Right: The Dr. Robert J. Williams Complex, the armpit of the new polling place. Allison McCann for VICE News.

Rolston Mondaizie, the pastor at the Central Abbey of Christ, remembers accomplished Acclamation Canicule fondly. “We acquainted advantaged to host the voting belt here, and we acquainted it was our obligation to the community,” said Mondaizie. “And for a cardinal of years — apparently 10 years — the association came in and voted here.” He said a few bodies still appearance up at the abbey anniversary Acclamation Day to try to vote, and that he directs them to the new location.

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The polling abode confused beneath than a mile away, to a medical circuitous with “more allowance and space,” said Watson. She said they withdrew voting at the Central Abbey of Christ because they generally had a adamantine time extensive Mondaizie and accepting the abbey accessible on Acclamation Day. (Mondaizie disputes this, and said he abounding the lath hearings and asked to accumulate the poll breadth accessible at his church.)

Allison McCann for VICE News.

Macon’s poll closures, like in abounding counties beyond Georgia, were done in an credible accomplishment to save money. Watson said the canton isn’t extenuative the projected $44,000 per year, but she estimated it was close, “maybe 20 or 30 thousand,” depending on whether it’s a presidential or non-presidential acclamation year.

“Government advisers consistently appetite to save money and do beneath work, but that’s not an able absolution for anarchic on built-in rights,” said Young. “What is the amount of our democracy?”

The blueprint that bent which jurisdictions would be accountable to administration beneath the Voting Rights Act was based on decades-old admonition on aborigine allotment and aishment measures, although it included a “bailout” accouterment for jurisdictions that could appearance they hadn’t discriminated in voting for 10 years.

Despite the achievability of a “bailout,” there were abounding built-in challenges by bounded politicians who believed their jurisdictions no best bare federal oversight. In 2010, admiral in Shelby County, Alabama, sued the U.S. Attorney General. They argued that back Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it did not anniversary for accepted voting conditions.

The Absolute Cloister agreed. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The blueprint captures States by advertence to articulacy tests and low aborigine allotment and assembly in the 1960s and aboriginal 1970s. But such tests accept been banned borough for over 40 years.”

Sewell believed that the Voting Rights Act didn’t awning abundant states. “I would adulation for all 50 states to be covered beneath the Voting Rights Act,” said Sewell, who sponsored legislation to restore the abounding protections of the Voting Rights Act with an adapted blueprint that would awning a few added Southern states. It didn’t accomplish it out of committee.

VICE News’ assay arise that jurisdictions that weren’t accountable to blank additionally bargain the cardinal of polling places overall. Counties in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia bankrupt an added 329 polling places, for a cease amount about as aerial as the ahead supervised states. And the trend persists alfresco of the South: Ohio and Indiana anniversary bankrupt over 300 polling places.

Left: Manatee Canton association acknowledging Andrew Gillum in the August gubernatorial primary. Right: Mount Raymond Baptist Church, a polling abode in Palmetto, Florida. Rob Arthur for VICE News.

Plagued by 45-minute curve at the acclamation in 2012, Manatee Canton adopted a new administrator of elections, Mike Bennett. Bennett had ahead served in the Florida legislature, but appellation banned affected him out. While there, he fabricated arguable comments about voting. “Why would we accomplish it any easier? I appetite ’em to action for it,” he said in a 2011 speech. “I appetite the bodies of the accompaniment of Florida to appetite to vote as bad as that being in Africa who’s accommodating to airing 200 miles.”

Two years afterwards his election, Bennett proposed a 30 percent abridgement in the cardinal of polling places in Manatee County, which was not accountable to federal preclearance. The proposed closures were primarily in heavily Latino and atramentous areas of the county. Eleven speakers at the canton commissioners’ affair against Bennett’s plan; he was the alone being to allege in favor of it. It anesthetized over the objections of the abandoned Democratic canton commissioner.

Sara Bay Baptist Church, a polling abode in Manatee County. Rob Arthur for VICE News.

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“Nobody [went] there,” Bennett said of the bankrupt polling places. Asked whether he advised the ancestral or demographic architecture of the areas surrounding bankrupt polling places, Bennett artlessly answered “No.” Money from the closures went into aperture aboriginal voting locations and an advancing vote-by-mail campaign. Bennett said that aboriginal voting tallies angled as a result.

But analysis from three University of Florida academics shows that in-person voting beneath precipitously as a aftereffect of the closures. Their 2016 cardboard showed that while white voters disadvantaged by the closures angry to added means to casting their ballot, atramentous and Latino acclamation assembly in the canton alone by 3 and 5 percent, respectively, for voters whose polling abode had changed.

In theory, voters who accept adversity traveling to a polling abode can casting a vote through the mail. In practice, abounding voters adopt to casting a acclamation in person, alike if it’s beneath convenient. “For ancient folks, man, there’s article about activity to the polls. Alike for me — I’m 51 and I’ve got a 14-year-old babe — I booty my babe to the acclamation with me every time so she can angle with me,” said Rodney Jones, the admiral of the Manatee Canton affiliate of the NAACP.

Rob Arthur for VICE News.

Jones’ own old polling place, a abbey aural a five-minute walk, was relocated to a borough centermost beyond the railroad tracks. It’s at atomic a 30-minute cruise on foot, and absurd to get to afterwards a car for earlier voters or bodies with disabilities, Jones said. “We still accept busline impediments,” Jones said about bodies in his community, which is predominantly black.

Even back a aborigine tries to about-face to vote-by-mail, it may not be an attainable transition. About 10 percent of Manatee’s citizenry speaks Spanish at home. Bennett, like abounding added bounded officials, has resisted press ballots in Spanish, but civilian rights organizations suing the accompaniment afresh won an emergency admonition that will force 32 counties in Florida to accommodate ballots in Spanish during the midterm elections.

In her bone to the Shelby decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said removing federal blank from the Voting Rights Act was like “throwing abroad your awning in a cloudburst because you are not accepting wet.”

In accession to polling abode closures, letters accept accurate added behavior that arise advised to abate aborigine accord such as aborigine allotment purges, laws acute specific forms of identification, and reductions in admission to aboriginal voting.

Taken together, experts accept that the all-embracing appulse is to abate aborigine accord through countless baby inconveniences. “Without question, these kinds of mechanisms accelerate a bulletin to voters of blush in accurate that we are beneath American than added Americans. It’s alarming to democracy,” said Catherine Lhamon, the armchair of the U.S. Commission on Civilian Rights, a bipartisan federal babysitter agency.

Several antecedent attempts to acquaint new legislation to alter the Voting Rights Act accept failed, alignment from Wisconsin GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s bill to Democratic Rep. Sewell’s proposal.

“Many of the excuses accustomed to me to argue my bill accept been a affectation for the actuality that the bodies who would account — if we decreased barriers to voting — would be association of color,” said Sewell. “And they may not be voting for Republicans; they may be voting for Democrats.”

In a U.S. Commission on Civilian Rights address on boyhood voting rights appear in September, the bureau absolutely alleged on Congress to alter and aggrandize the protections of the Voting Rights Act already again.

The Act “has been alleged amid the best important aldermanic enactments of any time — and not aloof civilian rights,” said Debo Adegbile, a commissioner. “Congress has the ability to do added in this regard, and the country will be bigger for it.”

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