Naked City

New Prairie View Vote Flap

Waller Co. commissioners on Thursday voted 3-2 against designating a central campus voting site at the historically black Prairie View A&M University. The decision comes after outgoing Waller Co. District Attorney Oliver Kitzman unsuccessfully tried to deny PVAMU students the right to vote in Waller Co. late last year, on the grounds that they were not legal county residents. Amid angry protests from black leaders both in Waller Co. and the Legislature, Kitzman backed down when faced with both a possible federal lawsuit and an adverse opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott stating that the right of college students to vote in the precinct of their choice had been settled more than two decades before.

Since then, local black leaders – including a Waller Co. justice of the peace – have announced plans to file a broader civil-rights complaint against Kitzman and other white local and state officials, alleging a widespread pattern of abuse they describe as "a reign of terror." Kitzman last week announced his intention to step down Sept. 16, citing family issues and claiming the controversy had no impact on his decision. Gov. Rick Perry is expected to name a replacement soon, and leaders, including state Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, are calling on the governor to appoint an African-American to the post.

In the latest flap, according to the Associated Press, county commissioners approved a lone polling place on the south edge of campus to serve both the university and the town of Prairie View, a location that student voters reportedly consider to be both inconvenient and intimidating. (Students at PVAMU well outnumber voting-age residents of Prairie View itself.) The vote went along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. Edwards called the decision "pure racist."

Austin's Lorenzo Sadun, a Democratic write-in candidate for Congress from CD 10 – which stretches from north Austin to Houston and includes all of Waller Co. – stated, "To their shame, the Republican majority on the Waller Co. Commissioners' Court ... continues to try to suppress student voting in Prairie View. They seem to believe that elections should be decided in advance by the officials currently in power, rather than on election day by the voters." Sadun's GOP opponent Michael McCaul did not return a request for comment.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Election 2004, Prairie View A&M University, PVAMU, Waller County, Oliver Kitzman, Al Edwards

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