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Houston Matters

Why Prairie View A&M Students Are Suing Waller County over Alleged Voter Suppression

The students argue that the county is suppressing the voting rights of its black residents.

Abner Fletcher/Houston Public Media
Early voting for the 2018 midterm elections began on October 22 in Texas.


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Students at Prairie View A&M University have filed a federal lawsuit alleging Waller County is suppressing the voting rights of its black residents.

"The plaintiffs at Prairie View A&M, which is a predominately black school, are alleging that the county is not providing the same access to early voting on campus as it is in other parts of the county which are predominately white," Teddy Rave, George Butler Research Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, told Houston Matters.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the lawsuit in Houston on Monday on behalf of a group of five students. The lawsuit argues the county is violating the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by not providing early voting locations on campus or in the city of Prairie View during the first week of early voting, which began on Monday.

"Since at least the early 1970s, Waller County has consistently tried to limit the political power of Black voters in the City of Prairie View and at Prairie View A&M specifically by undermining their right to vote," LDF Deputy Director of Litigation, Leah Aden, said in a statement.

During the second week of early voting, Waller County will have polls open Monday through Friday in Prairie View at two different locations. But one of the locations is off-campus and not easily accessible to students, according to the lawsuit.

Rave told Houston Matters that for this particular case the strongest claim is the violation of the Voting Rights Act. "They don’t have to actually show that the county is intentionally singling them out because of their race just that this has a discriminatory effect," he said.

When Houston Matters contacted Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis's office, they directed us to a statement on their Facebook page from yesterday:

Given that early voting ends on November 2 there is also an urgency to the case. "The plaintiffs want a court order to provide more opportunities for early voting on the Prairie View A&M campus starting this Thursday," Rave said. "They want the court to move very quickly."

The lawsuit follows concerns from earlier this month when students living on campus were told they needed to update their addresses before being able to vote in the midterms. But election officials said they didn't reject any student registrations, and that the addresses could be changed on Election Day or beforehand.