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County Clerk Withdraws Proposal to Combine Voting Locations in Fort Davis

(Sally Beauvais / Marfa Public Radio)

Amid pushback from community members, a proposal to combine polling locations for voting precincts in Fort Davis was sidelined Monday morning at a special meeting of the Jeff Davis County Commissioners Court.

In an email, County Clerk Jennifer Wright -- who was unable to attend -- notified the Court that she was removing her proposal from the agenda "at this time."

Ahead of the announcement, a group of concerned residents gathered at the courthouse to speak out against the proposal, which would have resulted in the closure of two polling locations in the upcoming November elections: Voting Precinct 2 at the Parish Hall of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, and Voting Precinct 3 at Fort Davis First United Methodist Church. The former has been active for decades.

The plan called for the consolidation of voting locations for Precincts 1, 2 and 3 into a single facility -- the County Clerk's office in the Gonzales Building. 

Resident Coyne Gibson says the move would have disproportionately impacted Hispanic, elderly, and poverty-line voters concentrated in the affected precincts. Among his concerns were the "potential for the dilution of that vote, and the potential for discouraging those voters to turn out." He also noted that a single voting facility would have had to process a high volume of voters in a small space with limited parking.

Wright brought the plan to the Commissions Court earlier this month, arguing it would cut down on the cost of running elections -- especially if the county should have to replace voting machines in the future. 

In a letter to the County Judge, San Antonio attorney Martin Golando -- who is known for his involvement in high profile civil rights and voting cases in Texas -- wrote that in his opinion, the proposal violates both state and federal law.  He noted that the proposal was slated to be acted upon just 78 days ahead of an election, with limited notice to the community.

Officials in the County Clerk's office say the proposal was not intended to be rushed through Commissioners Court, and it will likely resurface following the upcoming November elections.

Sally Beauvais is a reporter at Marfa Public Radio.