Georgia midterm elections: Voter suppression concerns sparked by proposal to close voting sites in predominantly black county

'This is unacceptable, but we’ve seen these voter suppression tactics before,' says Democrat nominee for governor Stacey Abrams 

Kimberley Richards
New York
Monday 15 October 2018 15:07 BST
Democrat nominee for governor in Georgia
Democrat nominee for governor in Georgia (AP)

A proposal to close seven out of nine polling sites in a predominantly black county in Georgia has drawn criticism over concerns about black voter suppression.

The Randolph County Board of Elections and Registration is expected to vote on the proposal to close nearly 80 percent of its voting sites in the southwest county of Georgia – where roughly 60 percent of the population is black – on 24 August.

Critics of the proposal have argued that it’s yet another effort to suppress black voters, particularly with national midterm elections coming in November.

The US has a long history of suppressing black voters dating back to the Jim Crow laws, when black Americans were outrightly denied basic civil rights, like the right to vote.

Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, activists have fought against other systemic means of suppressing the black vote, like voter ID laws, voter intimidation and voter roll purges which purports to eliminate cases of voter fraud – though officials have regularly found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Stacey Abrams, the Democrat nominee in Georgia’s governors race, has sharply criticised the new Randolph County proposal calling it an effort to “suppress the vote” and “depress voter turnout” in a predominantly black and low-income rural county. Ms Abrams, who founded non-partisan coalition New Gerogia Project in 2014 to help voters of colour get registered to vote, would become America’s first black female governor should she win the governor’s race.

“Last week, the Randolph County Board of Elections proposed closing seven of its nine polling locations before November,” she wrote in a Medium post.

“Without public transportation, some residents would be forced to walk over three hours to exercise their constitutional right to vote. This is unacceptable, but we’ve seen these voter suppression tactics before.”

The Independent has reached out to Todd Black, the county’s elections director for comment.

Mike Malone, a Randolph County elections consultant, proposed the closures to save the county money, and because he alleged the seven counties are not compliant with the American Disabilities Act’s guidelines on polling place accessibility for voters with disabilities, WSB-TV reported.

Georgia’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has since issued a letter warning of a lawsuit to the county elections board charging the proposal would violate the US Constitution by making it “disproportionately harder for African-American voters to cast a ballot”.

Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU in Georgia, attended the public meeting last week where Mr Malone discussed the proposal; he questioned the proposal’s “purpose” while other attendees charged it was about race, according to local reports.

Critics of the proposal, including the Georgia chapter of the ACLU, have also called Mr Malone’s ties with Brian Kemp, the state’s secretary of state, into question. Mr Malone reportedly told attendees at the meeting that polling site closures came recommended by Mr Kemp, the Atlanta Constitution Journal reported.

Mr Kemp, who is the GOP nominee for governor, has since publicly opposed the proposal, calling officials to “abandon” the effort. The secretary of state has been accused of using voter suppression tactics in past.

The Independent has reached out to Mr Kemp’s office regarding reports he recommended the closures and has not immediately heard back.

“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,” he said in a statement.

"We live in a nation that spent centuries denying the right to vote to the poor, to women, and to people of colour," Ms Abrams said.

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