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Prairie View Students March to Restore Voting Rights February 25, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in African American Professors, African American Students, Black Colleges, Black Students, Primary Elections, race, racism, Student Voters, Waller County.
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Prairie View Marchers

Down in Waller County, Texas it’s started to look an awful lot like the bad old days of poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests. Back in the bad old days, the white folks could brag that “their Blacks” knew their place, and that place did not include the voting booth.

At a time when unprecedented young people are flocking to the polls to cast their vote for two candidates whose very presence as Democratic front runners encourages us toward “the audacity of hope” in a new future, Waller County voting officials have chosen not to support students involvement in the political process, but — instead — to audaciously and shamelessly resurrect a racist politics of disenfrancishement that should have been buried along with blackface minstrelsy and Jim Crow.

In my blog post of January 7, 2008, I wrote of the current backlash against the growing participation of student voters in the the various state primaries. My roster of these efforts includes proposed legislation from the GOP side of the aisle and derisive comments about college voters form select and high profile Democrat. Now I must add to that list the more hands-on approach of Waller County’s voting officials, whose inexplicable decision to “cut early-voting sites from a half dozen throughout the county to one in Hempstead,” about 7 milse from the historically Black Prairie View A&M University, home to approximately 3000 registered voters (source: The Houston Chronicle), has prompted a surge of student activism.

On Tuesday, February 21, more than 2000 Prairie View students (according to police estimates) and their supports held a 7 mile march to the polls in order to protest the lack of a polling place on the 7000-student campus. Just last week the U.S. Department of Justice intervened and Waller county added three temporary polling places for early voting.

Students protested the absence of an early voting location on or near the campus, a problem which — strictly speaking — was not immediately solved by the county’s promise to add additional temporary polling sites. The Texas presidential primary is on March 4, but the county’s temporary pollings sites only opened on February 22, three days after on-site early voting had already begun throughout the state. Tuesday’s march coincided with the opening of poll sites for early voting across Texas.

Viewed in the context of other recent efforts to discourage student voting, it might appear that the actions of Waller County officials are unrelated to the fact that Prairie View A&M has an overwhelmingly Black student body. Given that most students, reglardles of race, vote for Democrats, this could be seen as an effort to suppress the Democratic vote in this region. In Texas, however, primary voters only vote within their party; and so the desire suppress the student vote in Waller County can be nothing but race-based. To limit the A&M student vote at the primary stage is to disenfranchise substantial numbers of likely Black voters.

In short, then, the net effect of Waller County’s suspicious actions would be to limit polling access for African American voters who, like most young voters this primary season,  are likely to vote for Obama, the African American presidential candidate. If Waller County officials are not willing to acknowledge that this was their main goal (to undercut Black voters’ ability to cast votes for a Black candidate), then they should at least concede that it was viewed as a desirable side-effect of their polling site maneuverings.

To read more on this story, see the following coverage:

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