Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election

October 1, 2008 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Voter Protection in the Upcoming Election

Judge Charleston, Waller County Justice of the Peace, was able to inject a surprising amount of humor and no shortage of passion into the telling of his personal experiences of struggling against appalling practices in Texas designed to keep black students from exercising their right to vote.Judge DeWayne Charleston

Judge Charleston’s speech today, co-sponsored by ACS, Black Law Students Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union centered on students at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in the majority white Waller County, Texas. Judge Charleston personally oversaw the registration of over 1100 black student voters. However, when the judge went to survey the polls on election day, checking to make sure that his constituents and potential voters weren’t having problems, he found that these black student voters whose registration he had personally overseen were being denied their right to vote at the polls. With a little help from unlikely allies Scarface and the crew at Rap-a-lot Records, Judge Charleston was able to convince the crowds of students to stay and vote provisionally, but was nonetheless appalled at the discriminatory practices at the polls.

Despite winning the election, Judge Charleston still demanded a recount searching for answers as to the students who the county failed to register. After months of inaction from the Texas Attorney General’s office, Judge Charleston began to call the office asking for information about the investigation into the voting recount but kept getting the runaround. He threatened that if he wasn’t heard he would walk the 200 miles out to Austin. So, just like he said and armed with photocopies of the registration forms he had helped fill out and a little media coverage, Judge Charleston began the long walk to the capitol. After 7 exhausting miles, Judge Charleston received a call from the Texas Attorney General. Charleston met with the Texas Attorney General who denied there being any mishandling of the black student voter’s registration. The next day some 700 unprocessed voter registration applications were uncovered in the Election Office. The county election officer was removed and there is an ongoing investigation into the incident.

When the local government in Waller County realized that the black voters had been disenfranchised, they met to have an emergency meeting to put an emergency bond package up for a vote that authorized a $49.3 million bond to build educational facilities. From this substantial sum, $49.1 million were earmarked for the smaller predominantly white city including money to build a $17 million dollar football stadium. Only $200,000 of the $49.3 million were going to educational facilities in predominantly black Prairie View. The bond was rushed to election and passed by 170 votes. Judge Charleston called these voter disenfranchisement practices “the backdoor to Brown v. Board of Education.”

Judge Charleston’s story is a minority voter rights nightmare that would be appalling in the Jim Crow era not to mention the 21st century. Even more horrific is the fact Prairie View A&M students this year are once again locked in a struggle against discriminatory voting practices in Waller County.

These events in Waller County are particularly relevant to William & Mary Law students considering the upcoming presidential election where swing state Virginia’s student votes could make or break the election for either presidential candidate. They also call attention to some of the questionable practices to disenfranchise student voters–such as these in Montgomery County (home of VA Tech) and Norfolk, VA.–as well as remind us that there are very real consequences to voter disenfranchisement. Most importantly, Judge Charleston’s story accurately portrayed the need for law students in particular to volunteer on Election Day to keep this kind of discrimination and disenfranchisement from happening at the polls. If democracy isn’t taking place at the polling booth then it isn’t taking place at all.

Judge Charleston Intro from W&M ACS on Vimeo.

Judge Charleston from W&M ACS on Vimeo.

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