Since 2012, fewer Lafayette polling locations for voters with lower income

Hannah Simmons

Lafayette polling locations have decreased significantly since 2012, most notably in lower income areas. 

Nineteen Lafayette polling locations have been permanently closed since 2012. Of those, 37% of the locations are located in downtown Lafayette, where the average household income is $26,365. Louisiana’s average household income is $45,682.

Polling location closures in Lafayette since 2012. Click on the image for an interactive map.
Polling location additions since 2012. Click on the image for an interactive map.

Louisiana Law: Title 18 Section 1363 states every precinct must have a polling location. There are 128 precincts in Lafayette with only 47 polling locations. According to Barriers to Voting in Louisiana, a briefing paper written in June 2018 by the Louisiana Advisory Committee for the United States Commission on Civil Rights, each parish’s Board of Election Supervisors can decide which polling locations are to open, close and merge. These decisions must be approved or disapproved by the secretary of state. 

The Parish Board of Election Supervisors is made up of the Registrar of Voters, the Clerk of Court, a representative of the Republican Party, a representative of the Democratic Party and the governor’s appointee.

 “The LCG is in charge of selecting polling locations along with suggestions from the Registrar of Voters and the Clerk of Court,” said, Louis Perret, the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court. “All voting was moved a few years ago from all fire stations. The clerk’s office makes sure the location works for us, such as parking, ADA compliance and other factors.”

In a December 2017 hearing before The LAC, Kyle Ardoin, who at the time was first assistant to the secretary of state, approximated the operating cost of each polling location to be $1,300 and attributed the lack of polling locations to budget concerns.

“While we prefer continuity in polling locations, the only role of the secretary of state’s office in determining polling places is to certify that locations selected by the parish governing authority are HAVA [Help America Vote Act] compliant,” a representative from the secretary of state’s office said. 

“The law dictates that only the number of registered voters should be related to the number of polling locations in a geographical area such as a precinct, a census tract, or a parish,” according to Barriers to Voting in Louisiana. “A statistical analysis of the data from Louisiana shows that the racial make-up of an area is a predictor of the number of polling locations in that area.” 

The Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 reviewed the constitutionality of Section 4b and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires local government to attain the permission of federal government to make changes to voting laws and practices. Section 4b detailed the places which were required to gain clearance from the federal government based on discrimination in the past. 

The Court found Section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional while Section 5 remains in the Voting Rights Act today. By no longer defining which places are subject to preclearance, the ruling has brought confusion to voting laws.

According to Democracy Diverted published by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, “In addition to its preventive powers, preclearance deterred state and local jurisdictions from suppressing the voting power of growing communities of color.”

Research provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts found in September 2018 that nearly 1,000 polling places in America have been closed since the Shelby Decision. They also found that the majority of the closed polling locations were in mostly black communities with legislators stating polling location costs as the reason.

“When local officials attempt to close polling places in majority-black neighborhoods, as they tried in Randolph County, Georgia,” Abraham Rutchick said, a psychology professor at California State University Northridge, in his interview in The Pew Charitable Trusts, adding, “They force black voters to travel farther to vote, and to vote in an environment they may find threatening, like in a majority-white neighborhood.”

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