A mostly black Georgia county decided not to close most of its polling places after all

The board had argued the precincts had to shutter because they weren’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act. Then came the pushback.
August 24, 2018, 2:46pm

The plan to close 7 of 9 polling places in a predominantly black and liberal-leaning rural Georgia county has been reversed.

After drawing nationwide media attention, condemnations from two candidates for governor, and threats to sue over racist voter suppression, the Randolph County elections board on Friday reversed their decision to close the majority of the polling precincts.

“We would like to acknowledge the concern that has been expressed about the consolidation and polling places from within Randolph County and throughout the state and country,” the two-member Randolph County Board of Elections wrote in a statement Friday, following a morning meeting, which reportedly lasted only one minute. “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.”

Initially, the board argued the precincts had to shutter because they weren’t compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act. Opponents of the move, however, pointed out that closing the precincts would likely leave residents unable to vote and, thus, disenfranchised.

“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 and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. The Lawyers’ Committee had sent a “pre-suit demand letter” to the board, on behalf of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, and the New Georgia Project. “We’re pleased that the Board has seen fit to bow both to needs of the electorate and the dictates of the law and reject this poorly conceived consolidation of polling places.”

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The decision to close the precincts was first recommended by elections consultant Mike Malone. When speaking at public hearings, Malone told residents that Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and the Republican candidate for governor, had recommended consolidating precincts, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

When the Journal-Constitution interviewed him, however, Malone told reporters that he didn’t remember Kemp making such a recommendation. Kemp’s office reportedly recommended Malone, who has also donated $250 to Kemp’s campaign, for the elections consultant job.

Malone was fired Wednesday.

Before the board’s decision, Kemp’s office issued a statement declaring that he did not support the closures. “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 Medium post, Abrams opted for a much stronger condemnation. “Georgia then spent decades creating barriers to prevent these historically-disenfranchised communities from exercising their constitutional right,” she wrote. “But a proposal to eliminate nearly every polling location in a Black Belt county belongs in a history textbook, not the current events section.”

Cover: Protesters gather outside the federal court house, Monday, July 10, 2017, in San Antonio, where a redistricting trial was taking place. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)