Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi TodayThe remains of Miracle Temple Evangelistic Church of God in Christ after a fire on October 2, is photographed on Lakeshore Road Tuesday, October 9, 2019. This was also a polling location for voters in precinct 96.
Holmes County Circuit Clerk Earline Wright-Hart still asks the U.S. Department of Justice for permission before making changes to polling places.
“I always like to follow protocol,” Wright-Hart, who is black, said, adding that many of the county’s seasoned clerks have retired. “I still do it out of respect for the person I used to do it with.”
This protocol was first imposed under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, passed to protect black voters from efforts to disenfranchise them. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sections of the law that required officials in states with histories of electoral discrimination — including Mississippi — to obtain federal permission, or preclearance, before making changes to voting laws or practices, such as polling locations.
Poll taxes, literacy tests and voter intimidation were some of the ways Mississippi historically prevented African Americans from voting. The 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted parts of the 1965 law and gave states greater power over running elections.
Since the landmark ruling, Mississippi counties have closed around 100 precincts across the state, roughly 5 percent of its polling places, according to a Mississippi Today statewide analysis of precinct information in the past three federal elections.
While Mississippi counties are supposed to notify the secretary of state when making changes to polling locations, no entity provides oversight or maintains a central record of