Hours-long Super Tuesday Voting Lines In Texas County Lead to Accusations of 'Voter Suppression'

Hours-long voting lines in parts of Texas led to significant frustration on Super Tuesday, with some suggesting that "voter suppression" was at play, particularly as the problems seemed to affect minority and student communities.

In Harris County, some voters reportedly waited for six to seven hours to cast their ballots in the Democratic primary, and reports said some would-be voters gave up and headed home early. Local officials pointed to the higher than normal turnout, but Texas has closed hundreds of voting centers since 2012, which has arguably disadvantaged minority voters, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund, a civil rights group.

"My total time trying to vote was four hours," Madeleine Pelzel, an architecture student at Texas' Rice University who voted in Harris County, told Newsweek. She explained that she first tried to vote in the early morning but had to leave because of the long wait time.

"I heard many complaints and issues from others in line," Pelzel noted, adding that they said voting in Texas was generally difficult. "Many people left the line."

Colleen Borum, a retired teacher who also voted in Harris County, said she saw at least two young women leave the line at her polling center. "I was concerned about standing, as I have a prosthetic hip," she said. She noted that she could tell waiting in the long line was difficult for another elderly voter she met there.

The office of Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said in an email that "polling locations and equipment were similar to other primary elections" but pointed "to an unusually high and enthusiastic turnout at several locations."

"We appreciate the patience of the voters who waited in line, and the dedication of all the Election Judges and poll workers. The length of the ballot was also causing more time in the voting booth," the email said.

Local station ABC 13 Eyewitness News reported that the last person to cast a ballot at the voting center at Texas Southern University did so at 1:30 on Wednesday morning after waiting seven hours.

"I wanted to get my vote in, voice my opinion. I wasn't going to let anything stop me, so I waited it out," Hervis Rogers, that final voter, told ABC 13.

An apparent problem, which Borum and Pelzel both noted, was that there were separate voting machines and lines for Republicans and Democrats. While far more Democratic voters came out to support their chosen candidates, Republican voting machines were often sitting unused.

But Trautman told ABC 13 that the machines were programmed to work for each party's ballot, meaning Democrats couldn't vote on the Republican machines. She pointed out that Democrats were outvoting Republicans by 3-to-1 in some locations.

"I characterize these and other circumstances that affected the voting experience yesterday as voter suppression," Pelzel told Newsweek. "It seems like a lot of blame to go around, and a lot of people in power who either don't care if voting is hard or actually want it to be. [It] would be pretty easy to do this better with more resources. This seems like pretty basic math."

Texas has closed 750 polling centers since 2012. The Guardian reported on Tuesday that research by two political scientists at the University of Houston, Jeronimo Cortina and Brandon Rottinghaus, suggests that this has negatively affected voter turnout. Their studies have shown that voters are less likely to travel farther to cast ballots on Election Day. Also, many of the polling station closures have been in minority communities.

Super Tuesday voting sticker
A Texas man shows his "I voted!" sticker after casting his ballot on March 3 in San Antonio. Edward A. Ornelas/Getty

Zachary Roth, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice who authored the book The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy, said closure of voting sites in Texas was definitely "relevant" to the situation in Harris County, which he noted has a large minority population and a sizable student one.

"Over the last decade, we've seen a number of different strategies by white Republicans to make it more difficult for racial minorities and students to vote," he said.

These efforts appear to have been ramped up as Texas has become increasingly diverse, with rapidly growing populations of black and Latino Americans. The Southwestern state has long been viewed as solidly red, but the growing populations of minorities, who often vote Democratic, are seen by the GOP as a threat to its control of the state.

"[Texas Republicans] passed a very strict voter ID bill that was found by a federal court to be racially discriminatory," Roth said. "They made voter registration more difficult by imposing all of these rules on voter registration groups to make it harder to go out and register new voters. There's just been a concerted effort."