The Houston Chronicle reports on a story that has its roots over twenty years in the making. 21 years ago, actually, Rodney Ellis penned a famous op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Jim Crow Goes to College,” that lamented the nasty vestiges of Jim Crow still present in Waller County. The County, which was a majority white at the time, fought to disenfranchise and dilute the power of the 37% Black minority of the time, heavily concentrated at Prairie View A&M University. Among the many obstacles facing the students was a lack of a polling place on campus. Students “have had to walk or drive more than a mile” to vote. While having a polling place a mere mile away from your residency is often not an issue, everything changes when a college or university is involved.
In a collegiate environment, a disproportionate share of the students lack adequate transportation into the outside world. This is true of any college, from Prairie View to UT-Austin. That is why most colleges have no shortage of polling locations for the students. But Travis County doesn’t mind the students voting. Waller County, a historically White Republican county, has minded the historically Black Democratic students voting.
Fortunately, today cooler heads prevailed as the Waller County Commissioners approved the creation of both a polling place and an early voting location on the campus. The change will be sure to elevate turnout among the students, who have historically felt disenfranchised. Today, however, the County’s African-American population is significantly lower. comprising only 24% as of the 2012 estimate of the Census bureau. The Hispanic population, however, was grown sharply to 20%. A mere plurality, 44% of the County, remains Caucasian.
The numbers give Waller County the capability to turn into a Democratic county with a little bit of foresight. In the blended average of the last few elections, roughly 15,500 people voted in the County. Of those, 7k voted Democratic, while 8.5k voted Republican. The two voting districts encompassing PAMU are 309 & 310, respectively. In just one of those precincts, 2.5k Democratic voters resided, while the other one housed a further 500. This means that, excluding PAMU students, Democrats are 3,000 votes short of victory. The university holds more than 8.5k students. The math is clear, Waller County SHOULD turn blue.