Bench Memos

Terry Pell on Polling Place Changes

Terry Pell of the Center for Individual Rights sends this trenchant observation:

At Wednesday’s oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. made much of the government’s claim that the Section 5 preclearance procedures continue to be necessary to deal with last-minute changes in polling places that are designed to make it harder for minorities to vote.

He claimed that the only way to stop this kind of “mischief” is to forbid the mostly Southern jurisdictions covered by Section 5 from implementing any election change until they satisfied the Attorney General that the proposed change won’t make it harder for minorities to exercise their right to vote.

So we wondered just how many times the Department of Justice has objected to a Section 5 preclearance request involving a change in polling place.  It turns out not many at all: out of 996 preclearance requests denied since 1965, only 39 involved a change in polling place — about 4%

And if anything, polling-place-change “mischief” has gotten better, not worse.  In the three months leading up last November’s election, the Attorney General received 568 requests to preclear polling place changes — about 14% of the total requests.  He precleared every single one of them.

In other words, discriminatory polling place changes have been rare all along.  In the most recent election, there were no problematic requests to change polling places in any covered jurisdiction.

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