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The U.S. has 100,000 fewer polling locations, which can change who votes and who wins elections

The Rural Blog

A lack of places for Americans to cast their votes adds a new wrinkle to an already challenging U.S. election year. “During the 2022 midterms, voters cast their ballots at just under 95,000 polling places across the country — half the number of locations available four years prior,” reports Chris Teale of Route 50.

The downward trend began after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling against the Voting Rights Act. “In particular, justices struck down Section 5 of the 1965 law, which required certain state and local governments to obtain federal pre-clearance before making any changes to their voting laws or practices.”

Once some states were no longer required to obtain permission, local offices were able to close polling places, change voting hours and create other restrictions without oversight.

Teale writes, “Fewer places to cast a ballot can be a barrier to voting for many people, especially low-income individuals who may lack transportation or time off to vote.” The voting rights program at the nonprofit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights “identified 868 polling places that were closed in jurisdictions that previously were subject to Section 5.”

The 2013 ruling isn’t the only reason polling places closed. The pandemic fundamentally changed American voting habits.

“Amid stay-at-home orders, states were forced to rethink their voting procedures,” Teale reports. “Some embraced vote-by-mail and absentee options that remain in place today. As a result, some states have less of a need for physical polling places and have consolidated them.”

Regardless of why there are fewer voting locations, the lack of them can profoundly change who will vote.

A 2020 study by Enrico Catoni in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics “found that an increase of one mile in the distance someone must travel to a polling location reduces turnout from majority-minority districts by 19%, compared to a 5% reduction for majority-white districts,” Teale adds. “What’s more, fewer polling places can mean longer lines at those still open, which can discourage people from voting.”

The Rural Blog is a news service of the University of Kentucky School of Journalism Institute for Rural Journalism.

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