New reasons, same result: Obstacles to minority vote

Some regions have shut polling places to "save money." Some states require voters to carry approved identification in order to avoid fraud. Not too long ago, different laws also impacted minorities; but in those days, the reason was explicit.

By now all the voters for the Arizona primary last week have cast their ballots, no matter how long the lines at polling places.

But the image of lines that stretched for hours lingers. And while local officials blamed voters for waiting until election day to vote, at least initially, the long waits happened most in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of minority voters. Where, it turns out, election officials had reduced the number of polling places as a “cost-cutting” measure.

This isn’t the first time a diligent new public official has eyed cutting polling places as a money-saving measure, leaving voting advocates concerned about the impact on minority voters. In the Nebraska county that includes Omaha, for example, the League of Women Voters got involved in 2012 as a plan to save money by closing polling places raised concerns that the plan would disproportionately impact minority voters.

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This issue doesn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. It comes as, in recent years, legislatures dominated by Republicans have tried to tighten voter regulations while citing reasons such as the need to stop voter fraud. Even if there is little to no evidence that voter fraud is a problem.

In Wisconsin, as one example, voters next week will be required to show certain forms of identification before they are allowed to vote in the primary. But when the law was passed, it included a requirement that the state do its best to educate voters about what they will need to do, to avoid trouble at the polls. That education has apparently never taken place, with money for broadcasting public service advertisements never approved by the legislature.

Maybe for officials the issues are about saving money and preventing fraud. But over and over, the impact seems to fall disproportionately on minorities and less-savvy citizens. It wasn’t so long ago that it was no secret why officials were passing laws that tended to keep minorities from the polls. That was, after all, the point.