Voting Rights Groups Demand Election Officials Reverse Plan to Close Polling Places in Majority-Black County
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AUGUST 20, 2018
Pre-Suit Demand Letter Issued by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on Behalf of Georgia Organizations to Randolph County Officials
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, voting rights groups sent a pre-suit demand letter to the Randolph County Board of Elections and Registration objecting to a proposal to eliminate more than 75 percent of the county’s polling places and voting precincts prior to the November 2018 election, and urging the Board to abandon the plan or risk facing legal action in federal court. The demand letter was issued by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of the New Georgia Project, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda.
The proposed consolidations would eliminate seven out of Randolph County’s nine voting precincts, including one in which nearly 100 percent of the voters are Black. It would severely burden many low-income, minority residents, particularly those who live in rural areas, lack access to transportation, or work long or inflexible hours. Several of the locations to be closed are ten miles away or further from the remaining locations, and there is no public transportation to them from outlying areas. The burden of these changes will be felt most acutely by Black voters, who are more than three times as likely as whites to lack access to a vehicle in Randolph County. Most of the closed precincts include substantial numbers of Black voters, and Census data indicates roughly 60 percent of county residents are Black.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has been working to combat the proposed plan since it was publicly released in coordination with local partners, Georgia-based organizations, and affected voters and constituents. In addition to sending today’s letter, it has provided assistance with coordinating the community response in the lead up to the Board of Elections’ public hearings last week, obtained key information about the changes via an open records request, and supported a petition drive intended to thwart the consolidations under state law.
“Randolph County’s proposal to shutter polling sites, concocted under a veil of secrecy close to a potentially historic election in Georgia, smacks of racially motivated voter suppression,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Closing more than 75 percent of the precincts in a majority-African American county will have an onerous effect on minorities and the poor, particularly those who lack access to transportation. Polling place closures are part of an old and familiar tactic used to disenfranchise African American communities. When communities expand their work to get out the vote efforts, recalcitrant officials intensify their voter suppression efforts. The Board should abandon this proposal; otherwise, we are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to fight back.”
“Closing numerous polling locations, in between a high-interest May primary and promises to be a high-interest general election in November of the same year is, on its face, disruptive,” said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project. “This proposal is also an attempt to suppress the votes of Randolph County’s citizens and must be stopped.”
“The Board of Elections should be focusing on making voting more accessible, not less,” said Phyllis Blake, president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP. “The Board has cited accessibility issues at the soon-to-be-closed polling places as a concern, but it has not committed to making any of the necessary repairs. The focus should be on improving the condition of those locations, not closing them entirely and placing the burden on the voters.”
“Randolph County’s voters deserve better,” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda. “They have spoken out loudly against this proposal, and the Board of Elections should heed their call to abandon it. It makes no sense to risk disenfranchising voters on the eve of this potentially historic election.”
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has a long history of fighting voter suppression in Georgia including an attempt to relocate a polling site to a hostile location in Macon-Bibb County, a purge program in Hancock County, a discriminatory exact-match policy maintained by the Georgia Secretary of State, and more.
If prospective voters have any questions about the location of their polling place in Georgia or elsewhere, they may call the national, nonpartisan Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE to receive assistance.