Georgia officials force black seniors off bus that was taking them to vote

Black Lives Matter bus taking seniors to polls is shut down in rural Georgia after someone raises "concerns"

By Igor Derysh
Published October 19, 2018 6:00AM (EDT)
 (AP/Steve Karnowski)
(AP/Steve Karnowski)

Georgia officials were accused of voter suppression after they forced dozens of African-American senior citizens off a bus taking them to vote.

The bus, which was organized by Black Lives Matter, was set to take about 40 voters from a senior center run by Jefferson County to the polls when the head of the facility told the group they needed to get off, Black Lives Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown told ThinkProgress.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a county clerk called the senior center to raise “concerns” about having the bus take residents to the city of Louisville, which is south of Augusta.

Brown explained that the group intended to urge seniors to vote but some of them asked if they could ride the organization's bus to the polls. She said that someone apparently saw the bus, which says “The South is Rising Tour” on the side, and called the county.

“This is voter suppression, Southern style,” Brown told the outlet. “I’m very upset. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’ve got a lot of emotions right now.”

Brown added that not a single law was broken.

“Even in the absence of law, they will use tactics like intimidation and voter suppression,” she said. “Somebody called the county commission, but there was nothing illegal or inappropriate.”

The seniors agreed to disembark the bus and travel to vote at another date. The senior center will reportedly use its own bus to transport people to the polls in the future.

“At the end of the day, every senior that got off that bus, not only are they going to vote, but they’re going to get five to ten people to vote with them,” Brown said.

Monday was the first day of in-person early voting in the Georgia governor's race between former Democratic state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and state Attorney General Brian Kemp, a Republican. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found voters forced to stand outside in line for hours as a result of limited polling locations.

Jefferson County Administrator Adam Brett said in a statement that local government considered the senior center event a prohibited “political activity” because it had been organized by Jefferson County Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Evans. Political activities, he said, are barred at county-funded events.

“Jefferson County administration felt uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party,” Brett said. “No seniors at the Jefferson County senior center were denied their right to vote.”

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund demanded an “immediate investigation” into the incident, calling it “an unacceptable act of voter intimidation” that “potentially violates several laws” in a letter to the county.

“During this electoral season, we all should be committed to ensuring that more, not fewer, eligible voters can participate and exercise their fundamental right to vote,” the letter said.

The outcry comes days after it was reported that Kemp had blocked 53,000 voter registrations – 70 percent of them from African-Americans – just weeks before his election against Abrams, who could become the state's first black governor. Kemp has used the controversial “exact match” program to purge nearly 700,000 voters from the rolls in the last two years.

Kemp was also named in two other lawsuits over absentee ballot rejections in Gwinnett County. Voting rights groups filed lawsuits after discovering the county had rejected absentee ballots from Asian-Americans at four times the rate of white voters and ballots from African-Americans at three times the rate of white voters.

As for the seniors, Brown said the group was undeterred.

“The seniors were so resolved. They said: ‘We’re going to vote. Nobody’s going to stop us,’” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It wasn’t the first time someone has denied them or tried to prevent them from voting.”

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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