Minority voters in three different communities have recently filed voting discrimination lawsuits under the remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act. The suits each highlight a central concern of voters in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which suspended preclearance of changes to local voting laws. The suits allege discrimination in county redistricting, in the closing of polling places, and in the denial of polling places in minority communities.
In Montana – Mark Wandering Medicine is the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of four Native American tribes in Montana that alleges they are systematically denied access to both voter registration and absentee ballots, which White Montanans routinely receive. Wandering Medicine says he has not been able to vote in 40 years because of the 157-mile round trip from his home to the nearest polling place.
“A Native American rights organization backing the lawsuit has even offered to pay for the [satellite voting] offices, arguing that they could easily double voter participation on the reservations,” reporter Andrew Gumbel says. “But the county authorities, along with Montana’s state election officials, have steadfastly refused to grant the request, offering a panoply of excuses, many of them contradictory. Racism and political animus, they insist, have nothing to do with it.”
In Jacksonville, FL – Pastor Reginald Gundy and the Florida Southern Christian Leadership Conference State Unit have filed a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville after the closure and relocation of a polling place with one of the highest concentrations of African-American voters in the city. Since 2006, the Gateway Shopping Center was a polling place that saw heavy foot traffic from Black community members. At this polling place in 2012, Black voters accounted for over 90 percent of the early votes cast.
“The closing of the Gateway early voting location and moving the…Branch Office to another location will burden, hinder and infringe upon the right to vote of plaintiffs and other African American voters due to such voters’ work schedules, ability to travel to the polls, and other reasons as well as a creating a return to times of greater voter confusion, and an unnecessarily difficult voting process,” the lawsuit states. The new location is inconvenient to public transportation and many Black voters will have a harder time traveling there to vote.
In Orlando, FL – Four residents are suing Orange County, Florida, claiming that the commission accepted a redistricting plan that does not give Hispanics a majority district in violation of the Voting Rights Act. According to census data, the county, which encompasses Orlando and its surrounding vicinity, is 27 percent Hispanic.
“We have a third of a population that is disenfranchised from the country, in terms of representation through taxation,” said activist Zoraida Rios-Andino, one of the four residents suing. Rios-Andino believes that the new lines do not allow Hispanic voters the opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.