Officials cry foul over proposed closure of polling sites in Black Georgia county

Cyril Josh Barker | 8/23/2018, 5:34 p.m.
Black residents and elected officials in one rural Georgia county are calling foul after the announcement of a proposal to ...
Polling station voters sign Nia Sanders

Black residents and elected officials in one rural Georgia county are calling foul after the announcement of a proposal to close seven out of the nine polling places in the county.

The controversy is simmering in Randolph County, Ga., which has a population of just over 7,700, of which a little more than 60 percent of residents are Black. The County Board of Elections & Registration says the sites are being closed because they are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“There is no doubt that some of the polling stations are not ADA compliant,” Randolph County Attorney Tommy Coleman said in one report. “Some of these precincts have fewer than 100 registered voters. Many people at these precincts vote early or by absentee ballot.”

However, Black residents and the Georgia branches of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union say the closures are an effort to suppress the Black vote. With upcoming midterm elections and a well-publicized gubernatorial election with a Black woman, Stacey Abrams, as the Democratic candidate, critics say it’s a civil rights and race issue.

“We know how various tactics for voter suppression have been embedded by opponents to real democracy, especially since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and I was surprised that folks had the audacity to try this in my state,” said NAACP Georgia State Conference President Phyllis Blake.

Georgia ACLU Executive Director Andrea Young said that having fewer polling sites prevents many rural voters who don’t have adequate transportation from casting their ballots.

“This proposal is reminiscent of Georgia’s ugly, discriminatory past, and that is where it needs to stay,” stated Young. “We will fight to protect every Georgian’s right to exercise their sacred, constitutional right to vote in every election.”

ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Sean J. Young adds that the closure of the polling sites could also be a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He said that the move would almost guarantee a lower voter turnout.

“Making it disproportionately harder for African-American voters to cast a ballot—especially when done so deliberately—violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” he said.

Critics are also suspicious about the timing of the closure of the polling sites. According to the ACLU, higher voter participation is expected in the November election. The polling site being closed in Randolph County are the exact ones used in the primary in May and primary run-off last month.

The right to vote is fundamental to our system of government,” said Congressman Sanford Bishop of Albany, Ga. “This action would certainly work to disenfranchise voters in Randolph County, particularly African-American voters. It is a disgrace to our democratic process, and it is unacceptable. I will be reaching out today to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Georgia Secretary of State to express my strong opposition to these proposed voting station closures.”

Georgia has had its share of controversy this year over voter suppression. The state canceled the registration of nearly 600,000 voters, claiming it was a “maintenance” issue. Officials said registrations were canceled because information had not been updated in more than three years or were inactive.

The final meeting to decide whether to close the polling sites is scheduled for Aug. 24.