Waller County expands early voting for Prairie View A&M students

Students in line for early voting at the Willie A. Tempton Student Center at Prairie View A&M University on November 2, 2016.
Students in line for early voting at the Willie A. Tempton Student Center at Prairie View A&M University on November 2, 2016.
Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

Two days after students at Prairie View A&M University sued Waller County over allegations that the county is suppressing the voting rights of black residents, the rural county said it is expanding early voting opportunities for students at the historically black university.

The county will now open a Sunday polling place at Prairie View City Hall and expand voting hours at the university’s campus center on Monday through Wednesday of next week to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., instead of the original 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the NAACP. Students can continue to early vote at the Waller County Community Center in Prairie View on Thursday and Friday of next week.

According to Waller County’s website, there is still no location on campus or in the city of Prairie View available to the students during the first week of early voting, which is what originally prompted five students to sue the county, accusing it of violating the federal Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution by denying them “an equal opportunity to vote” compared to the county’s non-black voters.

Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, a Republican, and Elections Administrator Christy Eason announced the expanded early voting opportunities for the students in a statement released Wednesday, but said that the county will be “vigorously opposing” allegations of voter disenfranchisement.

“We have analyzed our resources in an attempt to extend additional hours and times, and have done so, but all citizens of Waller County must be accommodated with the limited resources of a small county,” the statement said.

In a statement released Thursday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund called the expanded early voting plan “an improvement over the original plan, but still not equal to what other Waller County residents were offered.”

Prairie View A&M students have long fought with the county over increased access to the ballot box. In a 1979 voting rights case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court affirmed students’ rights to register to vote at their college addresses even though county officials claimed the students were not residents. It wasn’t until 2013 that students won a decades-long fight over the need to open an Election Day polling location on campus.

Disclosure: Prairie View A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.



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