Outrage in Chester County: Five African-American voters allege Voting Rights Act violations when they tried to cast ballots in 2008

Five African-American voters in Chester County are suing the county and its Board of Elections, alleging that their rights were violated under the federal Voting Rights Act as they stood in seven-hour-long lines to vote in their polling place in November 2008.

But the legal claims involve more than just long lines, according to the lawsuit, which was detailed in a story last week in The Legal Intelligencer.

“The suit says the precinct, which includes Lincoln University, has the highest percentage of black voters in the county – 68 percent – and that the polling place for many years was on campus,” according to The Legal Intelligencer. “But after a Lincoln professor won an election to a seat on the Oxford school board, the suit alleges, county election officials decided in 1992 to move the polling place [from a roomy gymnasium] to a less convenient,  off-campus [and smaller community center] site.”

Image credit: © iStockphoto.com/jkbowers

Let’s get this straight, a professor at a renowned black university in the U.S. runs for political office and wins. And then that victory later inspires a local government to arbitrarily change the rules so something like that can’t happen again? Is this even America?

Well, that’s essentially what the five plaintiffs allege. And now it will be up to the courts to decide.

One thing is certain, though – it is unbelievable that in the year 2010 we are still dealing with voting rights issues in this country that relate to the skin color of a man or woman who is trying to cast their votes.

Because the precinct has such a high percentage of African-American voters, some local residents “warned county officials that the existing polling place could not handle the anticipated record number of voters” expected due to the candidacy of then-presidential-hopeful Barack Obama, prior to November 2008, according to The Legal Intelligencer.

Those warnings were ignored, however, and the smaller polling place wasn’t ready for the crush of voters who showed up on Election Day 2008. The result – hundreds of voters waited for up to seven hours in the rain to try to vote, according to the lawsuit. Those who couldn’t wait any longer left without being able to vote, giving up their right to casting a ballot because of conditions that had been forced upon them by a decision made by county elections officials years before.

The scary thing is that sadly, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Five plaintiffs are pursuing this lawsuit so far.

But many more who learn of the suit in the weeks and months to come may ask to join it because of how they were treated that day, when their voting rights were taken away from them by the actions of political leaders who wanted to thwart the political gains of anyone not meeting their own agendas.

“We think that their experiences are represented by hundreds of other people,” said Phillip E. Wilson Jr., one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “There were a massive number of people who stood in the rain.”

In this embarrassing case in Chester County, we hope that the clear rays of legal justice soon shine on the voters who were wronged on that November Election Day in 2008.

This should never again happen on our nation.