There is a lot of talk about the closing of polling places, especially in the southern states, but is there any evidence that it was done for any reason besides financial?
I'll preface by pointing out this area of research that is oddly new; most of the research seems to come not just from the 21st century, but from within the last decade. The implication is that conclusions are 'under development' and potentially subject to revision as more research lands.
That being said, there are a number of works out — e.g., studies from the US Election Assistance Commission or Stephen Pettigrew, as well as more general journalism such as these from The Fulcrum, The Washington Post (paywall), and Scientific American — which look at poll waiting times as a measure of racial disparities. The essential findings can be summed up as follows:
- There are no significant individual differences in voting wait-times by race — on face-value averages, any given white person waits approximately as long as any given back person — which suggests there is no overt 'in-person' discrimination (as would be expected by, say, biased poll workers)
- There are large significant differences in neighborhood/district voting wait-time, such that wait-times are inversely correlated with the percentage of whites living in the neighborhood/district. Those who live in predominantly minority districts experience wait-times that are (under different assumptions) anything from two to six times longer than those who live in predominantly white districts
Drawing out the specific reasons for these differences in voting wait-times is problematic. The administrative districts and precinct authorities who manage and allocate funds, resources, and personnel to polling stations do not report their internal decisions to any governing body or in any generally reliable way, so studying their activities contains a degree of speculation and inferential reasoning. There is evidence to suggest that predominantly white districts are favored, receiving a disproportionate share of resources and attention, but as yet no definitive explanation of why this is the case, and only the un-validated — if eminently reasonable — assertion that a reduction in allocated resources produces an increase in poll wait-times.
It's worth noting that if one were intent on minimizing the impact of a particular minority group, targeting polling stations is the ideal tactic. If one is aware that members of that group are obliged to use particular polling stations — either because minority groups are clustered in communities that are used to define polling areas, or (as during Jim Crow) minority groups are forced into segregated polling areas — then making the process of voting in those particular polling stations more onerous can significantly reduce participation by that group. This tactic works hand-in-hand with gerrymandering, where gerrymandering clusters minority groups into such defined political districts, and differences in allocations within and across those districts increase the personal 'cost' (in terms of time and effort) of voting. But whether or not the effort is intentional, it is the effect this kind of research demonstrates.