Prairie View A&M University Campus Voting Site Denied
Waller County commissioners have denied the designation of a central campus voting site at Prairie View A&M University, rekindling a dispute about student voting there.
The 3-to-2 vote on Sept. 3 surprised minority leaders who thought county Judge Owen Ralston, a White Republican, would be willing to join with the court’s two Democrats, both Black, to approve the voting location on the historically Black campus.
The Commissioners Court recently approved the use of the county’s community center at the south edge of the campus to serve as the lone polling place for both the university and the small town that adjoins it.
Proponents of the central campus site said the community building — five minutes by foot from the center of campus — is inconvenient and intimidating to student voters.
However, Ralston countered that the Memorial Student Center — proposed as the second voting site — is too noisy and crowded to meet legal security requirements for voting.
“There’s not a place in that building that meets the election code,” he said. “We need to find a better place if there’s to be voting on the campus.”
Ralston then voted with Republicans Frank Pokluda, Precinct 2 commissioner, and Louis Canales, Precinct 4 commissioner, to kill the central campus polling site. Both commissioners are White.
Prairie View Mayor Frank Jackson, who urged commissioners to approve the second polling place called the outcome “a double-cross,” saying the university administration had agreed to take steps to close off part of the student center to ensure voters’ privacy.
State Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, called the court’s decision “pure racist” and vowed to complain to the Texas secretary of state and the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department has overseen Waller County elections for years, and the department launched a civil rights investigation related to student-voting issues last year.
That unfinished investigation was spurred by the actions of District Attorney Oliver Kitzman, who sought to curtail the local voting privileges of Prairie View students not domiciled in Waller County.
Kitzman ultimately backed down in the face of possible federal court action. Recently, he said he would resign for personal reasons Sept. 16.
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