Polling locations manipulated in Houston election

HOUSTON (AP) – Officials in two Houston-area elections recently manipulated polling locations to clear the path for their supporters to vote and to toss numerous roadblocks before their opponents.

Sponsors of a local community college bond election tried last year to put all their polling locations on their campuses, making voting easy for students and employees _ a natural support base _ but less convenient for opponents. That move prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to step in, and the election was postponed.

And officials with a suburban school district scheduled their bond election on the same day as the state’s general election in November _ and then spent $64,000 extra to set up separate polling places. State law would normally bar such a move, but a large loophole allows such maneuvers in the Houston area.

“I’m sort of astonished that election law in Texas allows somebody to buy their way onto a different ballot,” said Henry Brady, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s just astonishing to me.”

Such maneuvers go on to a lesser degree all over the country.

Some Minnesota schools hold bond elections in frigid January. Fire departments pushing bond elections in New Jersey routinely place their polling booths in remote fire stations. And elections officials in Ohio and California have been accused of uneven distribution of voting machines, causing long lines in neighborhoods that support one party and a quick passthrough for supporters of the other party.

Such machinations allow government officials to assist their favored candidate or to help pass bond issues _ and their resulting property tax increases _ without mounting expensive campaigns. Controlling the location of polls allows supporters to turn out in their usual numbers, while opponents have to drive farther, or to several places, to vote.

But election experts said that unless there are clear civil-rights violations against a minority group, federal authorities are unlikely to step in. Polling place manipulation doesn’t fall under the Voting Rights Act, so the Justice Department is not authorized to police such moves.

“These are things that can often fly beneath the radar,” said Dan Tokaji, a professor specializing in elections law at Ohio State University. “Unless somebody notices it and makes a big stink through the ordinary political process, you’re not going to hear a lot about that. And it’s very easy for these sorts of decisions to slip through without detection.”

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