Voting Access Still a Problem For Students at HBCU Prairie View A&M University

October 15, 2019

Students at the historically Black Prairie View A&M University are still fighting for their right to unrestricted access to vote in 2019. We talk to student Jayla Allen about the ongoing legal battle.

Students at the historically Black Prairie View A&M University are still fighting for their right to unrestricted access to vote in 2019. We talk to student Jayla Allen about the ongoing legal battle.


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Story Transcript

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.

Students at the Historically Black Prairie View A&M University are still fighting for their right to unrestricted access to vote. This fight endures in 2019 even after decades of legal battles have already been fought and won with the authorities of Waller County over voting access for the 9,000-plus students on the HBCU campus in Texas.

Here to talk about the latest ongoing battle in this long fight for the right to vote for black college students is Jayla Allen. Jayla is a current student at Prairie View A&M University, studying political science and legal studies. She is a Dallas native and one of the students who is currently involved in the ongoing lawsuit against the County of Waller for voter suppression. Jayla, thank you so much for joining me.

JAYLA ALLEN: Thank you for having me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The fight to ensure voting rights for Prairie View A&M University students is not a new one; it’s been going on for decades, actually. And you and your family in particular have intimate knowledge of it, right?

JAYLA ALLEN: Yes. That is correct, Jacqueline. My family are all alumni of Prairie View A&M University. I’m a third-generation attendee of Prairie View.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Jayla, you’re just the latest member of your family fighting restricted access to voting and voter suppression on the campus of Prairie View A&M University. Other members of your family have endured this.

JAYLA ALLEN: Yes, that is correct. I am a third-generation attendee of Prairie View. My grandfather started the legacy of my family in the early… in late ’70s, earning two of his master’s degrees from Prairie view. My parents both came, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts. My other sister is currently here attending with me as of right now along with some of my other cousins.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is not only a family legacy of attending Prairie View A&M University, but it also sounds like a family legacy of fighting for the right to vote, and, as we established, this goes back decades. There was a landmark Supreme Court case. This issue of voter suppression at Prairie View A&M University went all the way to the Supreme Court in 1979. What can you tell us about that and how that came about?

JAYLA ALLEN: The lawsuit in the ’70s was actually, of course, as you know, it went all the way to the Supreme Court, but that landmark case was significant not just to the students of Prairie View A&M University within the County of Waller, but students across the nation as we or as the students of Prairie View moved to be able to be clarified as residents of the county where they go to school and be able to primarily vote there during elections.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The Supreme Court ruling in 1979 wasn’t just a win for Prairie View A&M University, it was a win for college students across the country to be able to vote in elections while they attended college.

JAYLA ALLEN: That is correct.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Let’s fast forward to the 2018 Midterms when the students at Prairie View realized something else was unfair on the Prairie View campus as opposed to what was going on in the rest of Waller County in regard to election. What was the problem in 2018?

JAYLA ALLEN: The problem with that, this midterm election of 2018, was early voting. We were made aware a week or so before early voting started that Prairie View A&M University, our precinct and polling location had been shortened in the number of days versus the rest of the cities within the county although we have primarily one of the greatest populations for a precinct and a polling location within the county.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: To be clear about the disparity and why Prairie View students thought or believed there was a disparity, Waller County itself, which surrounds the university, is predominantly white, but the Prairie View campus is an HBCU, so it’s predominantly black, and early voting hours-

JAYLA ALLEN: That is correct. Yes. We have 9,000-plus students on the campus in one central location.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Mm-hmm. And early voting hours were not cut as much in the surrounding counties as they were on the campus of Prairie View A&M. Right?

JAYLA ALLEN: That is correct.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Senator Royce West spoke about this issue last year, and we have a clip of his comments.

ROYCE WEST: We have a lot of students from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, North Central Texas area, that attend Prairie View A&M University. If the county found out that there was not equal access to voting facilities for early voting, then they should have rectified the problem by providing equal access.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, there were protests on campus and in the surrounding counties by the students. There was quite a bit of, certainly, statewide attention and some national attention in response to this protest, and since the lawsuit last year, or at least since the filing of the lawsuit last year, apparently, some early voting on campus had been restored, at least according to what Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” Duhon said, and this is what he had to say after this issue was raised.

CARBETT DUHON: We understand that Waller County’s had the history, but we have worked very hard to make sure the students have their right to vote. I want all the students of Prairie View to know there is nothing that’s going to be done that’s going to deprive them of their ability to vote if they’ve registered for this election.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, Jayla, have the early voting hours been restored on campus?

JAYLA ALLEN: Jacqueline, if you’re speaking in the midterm 2018 election, students before the lawsuit was even filed, students, student leaders including myself went to the Commissioners Court where Judge Duhon was and we presented before them the disparity of hours and days of early voting with Prairie View and the rest of the cities within the county. We went before them and we asked that we be granted more days, and we were denied those days. After we took up the lawsuit, then that’s when they added extra hours and a day that was still off of campus. Those hours were added from eight to five to seven to seven on the days that we had almost three days of early voting, but the extra day came off, that was still off campus of early voting.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The additional day that was provided is still not convenient for the students on campus to be able to access early voting. Is that what you’re saying?

JAYLA ALLEN: That is correct. And when we went before them in court and we asked and we presented this idea of being able to be granted more days, then they told us that there was nothing that they can do and that we had… early voting was to start the next week and we were on limited resources and time, yet, after we had picked up the lawsuit and began groundwork in getting some things done and bringing some attention to this, then there was some action that changed in those days, and that time was soon changed.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: It’s just interesting that nothing was done until you had to file a lawsuit against Waller County again to demand equal and convenient and unrestricted voting access to the students of Prairie View A&M, and you’re saying you still don’t have it.

JAYLA ALLEN: That is correct. We’re still in litigation, of course, and the lawsuit is ongoing. But the students… I mean, just as before as in the 2018 Midterm election and even before the elections before that, our student leaders are engaged. We are working constantly the grassroots of making sure that we are not being denied those equal opportunities of being able to vote as everyone else in the rest of the county, but also making that our students… making sure that our students and our peers and classmates are being informed on everything that’s going on within the county as well.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Real quickly, Judge Duhon brought up history, that everyone knows the history of Waller County, so let’s talk about the history just for a second because, even before the lawsuit was filed, Waller County itself has a horrible history of brutal racism. Long before this case and this issue, Waller County was known for one of the highest lynching rates in the entire state of Texas. Starting in 1923, whites-only primaries virtually excluded blacks from voting at all, and even Judge Duhon acknowledged this in an article in The Washington Post in which he said, “I think there’s always been this fear that if the students of Prairie View A&M voted and they voted in a certain way, they could take over the county,” he said. That’s a direct quote from him. Jayla, do you and other students feel a kind of animosity today when you leave the campus and go into the community outside of it?

JAYLA ALLEN: Most definitely. I, in my opinion–and I think a lot of student leaders, a lot of students, even the faculty members and those at the community–can attest to that. There is no real relationship between the county officials and those of this campus of Prairie View A&M University, and that is where essentially one of the problems lands. Like you said, if you look at the history and you look at not even just with voting, but as in lynching and going back with the high rate that they’ve had with that, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the equality of voting, but also within the county in binding us as students, students of color and our officials and the rest of the community.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, finally, there’s a new Texas law that is supposed to require all satellite early voting centers to remain open the same number of hours as main locations are open. Considering this history that Prairie View A&M has with Waller County on this issue alone and the history, the long history of racial brutality and tension that Waller County has with Prairie View A&M students, do you think this law will solve these issues, or are you still expecting to face more challenges for Prairie View students to have to overcome to achieve equal and unrestricted access to vote?

JAYLA ALLEN: I think that this piece of litigation and legislation puts the pressure and also brings the attention to making sure that all those hours are the same across the board, but, essentially, the problem is still lies in what does the county officials of Waller want to grant us and the relationship that we have with them? It’s essentially them not wanting to do the right thing and grant us the equal opportunities and the equal hours and days of early voting or voting across the board, and now that this has come down, it’s forcing them, it’s forcing everyone to give the equal amount across the board, but as I spoke with the relationship of Waller County officials and the students of this university, that is still strained.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: We will certainly be watching how this ongoing case plays out. Thank you so much, Jayla Allen, for coming and speaking with me today about this issue.

JAYLA ALLEN: Oh, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure to speak with you guys.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.

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