Elections officials in a rural Georgia county are facing massive blowback over a plan that could disenfranchise thousands of voters just months before a high-profile election.
The proposed closure of seven of nine precincts in Randolph County, Georgia is ostensibly due to making those polling stations compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is accusing the county’s elections overseers of engaging in behavior that will ultimately end up suppressing the votes of poor people and people of color. One of the seven polling places in question serves a community that is nearly 100 percent black.
In an August 14 letter to the Randolph County Board of Elections, the ACLU of Georgia said the closures will “virtually guarantee lower voter turnout in a Black Belt county that is predominantly African American,” while also arguing that the stated reason for closing the polling stations to make them ADA-compliant is hypocritical.
In a tweet, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) called the proposal “voter suppression.”
“These cowardly efforts to make it harder and harder for African Americans to vote must be stopped,” Sanders wrote.
This is voter suppression. These cowardly efforts to make it harder and harder for African Americans to vote must be stopped and we must do everything we can to make it easier for all Americans to vote. https://t.co/4Z8wEf5RiY
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 20, 2018
“These are the exact same polling places used in the primary and primary run-off earlier this year,” ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean young wrote in the letter. “It makes no sense to suddenly reduce the number of polling places for this November’s election, which will see far higher voter turnout than in the primaries or the primary run-off.”
Randolph County, which is southwest of Atlanta, was one of the few Georgia counties that went for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Even though Georgia as a whole went for Donald Trump by a 15-point margin, Clinton won Randolph County by roughly 12 points.
To his credit, a spokesperson for Brian Kemp has denounced the Randolph County voting precinct closures. But Mike Malone — the consultant hired by the county who suggested the polling stations be closed — has previously donated to Kemp’s campaign. And as Rewire reported last year, Kemp has previously purged approximately 380,000 voters from the rolls during his time as secretary of state. That represents roughly 6.5 percent of all active registered voters in the state.
Given that the most recent polls show that the governor’s race is within the margin of error, that’s more than enough of a percentage to swing a statewide election. A Gravis poll conducted between July 27 and July 29 of 650 likely voters found that Abrams was the narrow favorite, just two points ahead of Kemp. A WXIA-TV/SurveyUSA poll conducted two weeks before the Gravis poll showed Kemp in the lead by just two points.
Grit Post’s calls to the ACLU of Georgia have not yet been returned as of this writing. Randolph County officials will vote on Malone’s proposal to shutter the seven polling stations on August 24.
Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at email@example.com.