Prairie View Students Experiencing Voting Problems in Waller County Texas
Prairie View, TX – As the historic turnout among young voters continues to have a major impact on an election that marks a turning point in America, students at Prairie View A&M University faced with the age-old problem of fighting for their right to vote, are planning a march and rally February 19, 2008 to protest ongoing student voting disfranchisement in Waller County Texas. The students will start at 9:00 AM at the PVAMU Memorial Student Center and will march to the courthouse in Hempstead.
During a press conference held Tuesday in Houston, PVAMU Student Government Association, Black Youth Vote! (BYV!) Texas, and a host of local community leaders appealed to students across the country to assist in their plight by joining them for a the March for Voting Justice, or by sending a letter to the Department of Justice to support their efforts. Officials at the Historically Black University have already agreed to excuse the 8000-plus student body to participate in the march, which will be held on the first day of early voting.
According to Waller County Judge DeWayne Charleston, recently the Waller County Commission decided to eliminate six early voting locations in the county including the one adjacent to campus requiring PVAMU students to drive or walk 7.3 miles to vote in Hempstead, a nearby town. Waller County covers 525 square miles and has but a single polling site for early voting this year.
“Without a doubt, the change makes voting more difficult for the PVAMU students”, Judge Charleston said.
On January 25, 2008 the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights sent a in a letter to the DOJ stating, “The elimination of temporary early voting sites, combined with the history of early voting by minority voters at the temporary sites such as Prairie View and Brookshire, and the difficulty that many minority voters will have in getting to Hempstead, unquestionably places minority voters in a worse position and thus is retrogressive. In addition, this change was motivated, at least in part, by a discriminatory purpose.”
According to Charleston, just yesterday Waller County Commissioner’s Court received a letter from DOJ requesting a detailed list of items. Waller County called an emergency meeting for the county to respond to the letter. The results of that meeting are not known. The DOJ letter says there will be a “sixty day review period for the proposed early voting changes.”
“Early voting in Texas starts on Feb. 19,” says Christina Sanders, Black Youth Vote! Texas coordinator. “The students don’t have sixty days to wait for a response so we are going forward with the march to keep the pressure on the DOJ.”
Waller County has a long history of voting discrimination and a “continued failure of elected officials to work with the minority community to remedy past problems,” the LCCR letter states. Most recently, in 2004, an estimated 5,000 students marched seven miles from campus to the Waller Country Courthouse to demand the right to vote without intimation, and to ask the State of Texas to intervene in the matter. In the 2006 election, hundreds of newly registered students were turned away from the polls and forced to vote with provisional ballots because their names were never added to the Waller County voter registration rolls.
Melanie L. Campbell, executive director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP) commented, “The continuous problems in Waller County Texas clearly demonstrate that protecting voters’ rights and making sure votes get counted will play an important role in the 2008 election cycle. Protecting our vote is a crucial component of the NCBCP’s Unity ’08 Voter Empowerment Campaign.”
Campbell adds, “The primary mission of the National Coalition is to increase voter participation, so this is an exciting time for our organization. Young people across the country are on fire about this election. They want to be a part of history. The students at Prairie View have a right to be a part of that process without intimidation or discrimination.”
The March and Rally is sponsored by the PVAMU Student Government Association and Black Youth Vote! Texas. The NCBCP’s Black Youth Vote! (www.ncbcp.org/byv) was founded in 1996 to focus on increasing political and civic involvement among Black men and women aged 18-35. The youth led organization educates young adults about the political process and trains them to identify issues and influence public policy through participation. Based in Washington, DC with 12 state affiliates, BYV! has been instrumental reversing the downward spiral among young voters and educating voters who are increasingly disenfranchised from the electoral and legislative process.
To participate in the PVAMU March to Vote contact Black Youth Vote Texas at (713) 899-0737. To send a letter to the DOJ and for more information visit www.ncbcp.org.
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