In fall 2018, LDF and Norton Rose Fulbright filed a lawsuit against Waller County on behalf of Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) student voters, alleging that the county discriminated against them by adopting and maintaining an early voting schedule for the November 2018 election that limited their access to early voting. Since 2018, Waller has refused to provide on-campus early voting at PVAMU. LDF brought claims under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, alleging that Waller County had intentionally discriminated against Black PVAMU students on the basis of race, in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and on the intersecting bases of race and age, in violation of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments combined.
LDF’s suit noted that during the first week of early voting, no polling sites are available anywhere in the City of Prairie View or on campus; in the second week, while Prairie View, where PVAMU is located, is providing five early voting days, two of those are off-campus at a site that is not accessible to many PVAMU students who lack transportation. By contrast, in the majority-white city of Waller, voters have two locations to vote during the first week and overall 11 days of early voting. During the second week of early voting, two voting sites are open in Prairie View, but for considerably fewer hours than voting sites in Waller.
Waller County is an exurban county on the northeastern border of Harris County, Texas which comprises both suburban and rural areas. The County’s Citizen Voting-Age Population (CVAP) is majority white. One of the largest cities in Waller County is Prairie View, the population of which is about 80 percent Black. Prairie View is anchored by Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), a Historically Black University with over 9,000 students. Prairie View is demographically unique in Waller County by virtue of its high concentration of young, Black residents. There are no other universities or colleges anywhere in the County, and no other area has as high a percentage of Black residents of any age as the City of Prairie View. Except for officials elected from the majority-Black Precinct 3, which contains Prairie View, every elected official in Waller County is white.
Founded in 1876, PVAMU is a historically Black university with over 8,000 students. Waller County has targeted PVAMU for decades by enacting restrictive and unconstitutional voting measures, dating back to when Americans 18 years and older won the right to vote in 1971. Since then, the school’s predominantly Black student population has been a political force in the majority-white Waller County. Before 1971, Waller County had almost no Black voters. But with the ratification of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment in 1971, which gave the vote to all Americans eighteen years or older, the mostly Black student population at Prairie View A&M became and remains a significant political force in Waller County. Almost immediately, county officials began deploying various unconstitutional and illegal tactics to limit students’ voting rights, including restrictive registration requirements, arbitrary voter challenges, and, just in the last few years, baseless changes in Black students’ access to early voting and polling locations.
Read the 2018 lawsuit here