Georgia voting rights activists seek to block polling location closures in majority black county

The ACLU said the timing of the proposal was "suspicious," as the polling locations were used earlier this year

By Shira Tarlo

Published August 20, 2018 5:45PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Paul J. Richards)
(Getty/Paul J. Richards)

The board of elections in Randolph County, a rural community about two and a half hours south of Atlanta, wants to close seven of the county's nine polling locations in the predominantly black county ahead of this November's midterm elections, because they are allegedly not in compliance with disabilities laws.

The Randolph County Board of Elections told residents about the proposed plan during an elections board meeting Thursday night, according to local media reports. The election officials said the seven locations they want to close are not in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, which requires wheelchair accessibility to all public hearings, and the county did not get a chance to make them wheelchair accessible before the midterm elections. To solve the problem, one board representative who helped craft the plan said voters could "apply and secure an absentee ballot by mail."

The Georgia county has a small population — roughly 7,000 people. That county is more than 60 percent black, with a median household income slightly more than $30,000 per year and a poverty rate of 30 percent — more than double the national level — according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, one of the proposed voting places for closure serves a 96 percent black population of registered voters.

In a letter sent to the Randolph County Board of Elections threatening legal action against the county and demanding that the polling places remain open, ACLU Georgia charged the timing of the proposal was "suspicious," because the exact same voting locations were used in the primary and primary-run off elections earlier this year — and because the Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams, Georgia's first black female gubernatorial nominee, will be on the ballot in November.

"We have expected high turnout this fall. You have to ask, why were these polling places enough for the primary and runoff earlier this year, but not good enough for this November's election?" the letter said. "The timing is very suspicious."

ACLU Georgia alleged that the voting place closures would make it significantly more difficult for rural residents to get to the polls.

"These voting place closures virtually guarantee lower voter turnout in a Black Belt county that is predominantly African-American (60%), and will completely prevent rural voters without transportation (again, disproportionately African-American) from voting in-person on Election Day," ACLU Georgia said in the letter. Those voters, the organization said, were less likely to own a car and would have to walk more than three hours to one of the two remaining polling places, because there is no adequate public transportation.

Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state and the Republican nominee in Georgia's gubernatorial race, whose office oversees election operations throughout the state, issued a statement urging the county to "abandon this effort."

"As soon as we learned about this proposal, we immediately contacted Randolph County to gather more information," Kemp said in a statement. "Although state law gives localities broad authority in setting precinct boundaries and polling locations, we strongly urged local officials to abandon this effort and focus on preparing for a secure, accessible, and fair election for voters this November."

The county will vote Aug. 24 on the proposed changes, according to WALB.

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Shira Tarlo

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Elections Elections 2018 Georgia Midterm Elections November Election Stacey Abrams