Majority-black Georgia county rejects plan to close 7 of its 9 polling places

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

The election board in majority-black Randolph County, Georgia voted Friday morning to reject a proposal to close seven of its nine polling locations before the November election.

The vote comes shortly after the county announced it had fired the elections consultant, Mike Malone, who conceived of the plan. Malone was initially hired to temporarily fill the role of an elections supervisor, but he undertook efforts to close all but two of the county’s polling precincts instead.

The racial implications of the plan generated immense backlash. The county is over 61 percent black, and one of the polling locations that would be shuttered serves a precinct where more than 95 percent of voters are African American. Before the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the closures would most likely have been blocked by the Department of Justice.

Voting advocates, including representatives from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, attended Friday’s voting, vowing to file a lawsuit if the county approved the plan.

“This is a victory for African American voters across Georgia who are too often subject to a relentless campaign of voter suppression,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a statement. “The defeat of this proposal also shows the power of resistance and the impact that we can have by leveraging our voices against injustice.”

The county issued a statement crediting the public for pointing out the issues at the root of the plan.

“The interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle,” the statement said, according to a CNN reporter.

Malone was attempting to justify the closures using federal disability law, claiming the seven polling places were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Voting advocates told ThinkProgress it was “diabolical” to use one civil rights law in an attempt to infringe another, the Voting Rights Act.

Voter suppression efforts in Georgia are not rare. Earlier this year, GOP lawmakers in the state similarly attempted to eliminate Sunday voting in Atlanta, a move that would disproportionately hurt black voters.

Andrea Young, executive director of the state’s ACLU, told ThinkProgress that closing polls is even more disruptive than other forms of voter suppression, like cutting hours — and that the effects are felt especially hard in rural Georgia, where many voters fought for the passage of the Voting Rights Act during the Civil Rights Era.

“What we see in Georgia is that every tool in the voter suppression toolkit is in use,” Young said. “I’m not surprised to see a new theory for voter suppression.”

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Reposted from Think Progress

Kira Lerner is a Political Reporter for ThinkProgress. She previously worked as a reporter covering litigation and policy for the legal newswire Law360. She has also worked as an investigative journalist with the Chicago Innocence Project where she helped develop evidence that led to the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man from Illinois prison. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Kira earned her bachelor's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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