Georgia County Abandons Plan To Close Polling Stations In Rural Areas

A Georgia County is abandoning a dubious plan that would have closed 2/3 of the county's polling stations.

As Steven Taylor noted on Sunday, Randolph County, Georgia, a rural county some two hours north of Atlanta had announced last week that it was considering a plan that would close two-thirds of the polling places in the county. Not surprisingly, a preliminary analysis made it clear that this plan would have had its greatest impact on the county’s minority voters. While the purported reason for the decision was the alleged failure of these facilities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the announcement was met with widespread protest based on the charge that the move would make it more difficult for the county’s minority population and that at least part of the motivation behind the decision was to make it harder for this segment of the population to vote.

Now, with the week drawing to a close, it is being announced that the closure plan is being abandoned:

CUTHBERT, Ga. — The consultant, a white man, came to the mainly black Randolph County in rural southern Georgia and recommended that it eliminate seven of its nine polling places. He said the move would save the county money. He said the polling places had disability compliance issues.

But many people in the county assumed a more sinister motive, especially with the state in the midst of a hotly contested election for governor. It pits a Democrat who would be Georgia’s first black chief executive against a white Republican who has been called a “master of voter suppression” by his political opponents.

“I think it was an effort to suppress the vote,” Bobby Jenkins, 66, a retired Randolph County school superintendent, said after a meeting on Wednesday where local residents complained that African-Americans in poor rural areas would be left having to drive long distances to vote. “This is one typical strategy in the Republican playbooks.”

The Randolph County plan was rejected Friday morning on a 2-0 vote by the county’s board of elections. The two members, a black woman and a white man, voted hastily and without comment, leaving a press statement that acknowledged the interest from the news media, residents and civil rights groups.

“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,” it said.

But some say it may not be the last flash point over voting access in Georgia.

Mistrust and bad blood permeates what is shaping up to be a historic election for governor. In the years leading up to the showdown between Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, and Stacey Abrams, the Democratic former state House minority leader, Georgia has been caught up in one controversy after another, locally and statewide, over election integrity, voting access and race.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been sending its members to observe meetings of other local election commissions across the state, and to watch for similar proposals that could curtail voter access, according to Andrea Young, the executive director of the group’s Georgia chapter.

“We sort of anticipated a bit of what’s happening in Randolph County, that there might be efforts to close polls ahead of this election,” Ms. Young said.

The two candidates, Mr. Kemp and Ms. Abrams, have squared off over voting rights before. As secretary of state, Mr. Kemp has overseen Georgia’s elections since 2010. He is a fervent fan of President Trump, who has made numerous baseless claims about voter fraud.

For years, Mr. Kemp’s critics in Georgia, including Ms. Abrams, have accused him of supporting policies that adversely affect minority voters and contravene federal law. They also say he has conducted overzealous investigations of voter registration groups, including one founded by Ms. Abrams. The state’s Democratic Party has called on him to resign his current office in order to ensure an impartial election.

Mr. Kemp has insisted that he had nothing to do with the plan to close polling places in Randolph County, and wrote to the county advising it not to go ahead with the plan.

Unfettered access to the polls for minority voters is vital to Ms. Abrams’s election campaign. She has adopted a strategy that relies less on wooing conservative white Democrats in the countryside, as her party has done in the past, and more on a surge of highly motivated liberals and nonwhite voters, in an increasingly diverse state: By 2030, non-Hispanic whites are expected to make up less than half the population

(…)

[W]hen the word got out about his proposal, it struck many as drastic. The civil liberties union wrote to the county that the plan would make it “disproportionately harder” for black voters to cast a ballot. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law threatened to sue, arguing that closing the polling places over accessibility made little sense.

“Forcing elderly, disabled, and other persons with mobility issues to travel lengthy distances to vote is out of place with the purported goal of A.D.A. compliance,” its lawyers wrote to the county.

As Friday’s vote neared, it became difficult to find anyone, Democrat or Republican, who supported the proposal. On Wednesday, the county attorney sent a letter terminating the county’s contract with the consultant who recommended the polling-place closings, Mike Malone.

Suspicion also spread that Mr. Kemp was somehow behind the recommendation — a claim he adamantly denies.

As Steven noted in his post on this issue, compliance with the ADA is certainly important in this respect, and all steps need to be taken to ensure that the disabled residents of the county have the proper access that they need in order to exercise their right to vote. At the same time, though, that hardly seems to justify the initial decision to so drastically cut back on the number of polling stations in one specific area of the county. For one thing, there are no doubt steps that can be taken in the short term to make these locations ADA compliant, or as nearly as possible, or to make other arrangements such as absentee ballots or other measures that would deal with the ADA issues supposedly causing problems with the voting locations in question. For another, there are surely less intrusive ways short of closing the voting facilities to deal with this issues. Finally, it seems rather obvious that the fact that this plan was going to be voted on less than three months prior to midterm elections during which a hotly contested race for Georgia Governor and the state legislature are on the ballot. Taking all of this together, the assumption that there was something nefarious going on here was not unfounded, and the reaction of activists and members of the public to the plan was entirely understandable.

Fortunately, the plan has been abandoned but one imagines that the only reason this is the case is that it became an issue in the Governor’s race and because it became a national news story. Had this issue slid under the radar, as so many other restrictions on voting rights tend to do, then it’s likely that the county would have gotten away with this and that many minority voters in Randolph County would likely have been deprived of their right to vote.

 

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Race and Politics, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gustopher says:

    I remain convinced that this was meant to be the big shiny voter suppression that people would focus on, and which would get reversed, while other tactics would slip by unnoticed.

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  2. Gustopher says:

    Also, the ads about “Even Doctors Are Concerned About Barron” are creepy. People should let the weird little autistic bat-boy of the White House be (or perfectly normal kid, or whatever…).

    If there are ways to block specific ads, that would be nice. Picking on politician’s kids doesn’t seem to fit in with this site.

    There will be plenty of time to demonize him when he gets older and runs for the Senate with a campaign slogan of “I can see through the three eyed raven.”

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  3. @Gustopher:

    I think this comment may be under the wrong post

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I have been living in the boonie woods for almost 20 years now and have had 3 different polling stations. Only 1 has been fully ADA compliant (I did ADA remedial work for years, I know the code requirements), none of the barriers were insurmountable. The idea that thousands should have barriers placed in the way of their right to vote so that election officials should not be inconvenienced by having to go beyond the usual procedures to ensure everyone’s right to vote was obviously ludicrous on it’s face.

    @Gustopher: I think you give them too much credit. Time and again we have seen them engage in these ham-handed practices and then brag about it. These are not smart people.

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  5. James Pearce says:

    Had this issue slid under the radar, as so many other restrictions on voting rights tend to do, then it’s likely that the county would have gotten away with this

    I dunno. I got into a debate with Steven on this, forcing me to do my homework. I kind of think if this slid under the radar, it would have been because the Randolph County Election Board was incompetent.

    The previous election manager quit and they hired some consultant. Surprise, surprise, the consultant came in with a “manage government like a business” ideology and suggested the old corporate strategy of cutting costs by closing doors.

    I was unable to find anyone in Georgia — left, right, black or white– who was willing to defend or implement the proposal. (A lot of folks pointing fingers though, reinforcing the incompetence idea.)

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @James Pearce: Yeah Pearce, we all saw that your reaction to this a couple of days ago was that we should all just let it slide because, hey, they probably had the best of intentions.

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  7. Jen says:

    I find the ADA compliance argument a bit strange, because it suggests that there is nowhere in each voting precinct in the county that has ADA-compliant building facilities suitable for voting. Here in my little town in NH, we vote in either the town building (a facility that houses the town clerk, tax collector, holds the selectmen’s meetings, etc.) or the local elementary school. Both of those buildings are ADA compliant (I think they have to be by law).

    I’m sure that in rural areas there aren’t that many options, but surely there has to be something? Or some method of accommodation for disabled voters? I just find the argument suspect.

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  8. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The ads rotate. Watch for it, it will be back.

    There have been a bunch of weird Barron Trump ads lately. That one, “Barron Trump’s IQ revealed”, etc. The kid has enough problems with his family being his family.

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  9. KM says:

    @Jen :
    ADA is almost 30 years old. They are literally saying things that have been out of compliance for a longer period of time then some of the voter they are trying to screw are old….. but nobody cared until like last week. Even though they’ve been viable for voting earlier in the year with no issues.

    The argument’s not supposed to make sense. It’s a fig leaf and a subtle “owning” as it’s using some of them “special rights” libs keep creating to punish libs. “Mwahaha, let’s see ’em argues ‘gainst keepin’ ’em gimps froms gettin’ insides easy!!” They honestly think it works like a banhammer or something – declare it ADA non-compliant and that’s the end of their existence. The idea of a replacement or substitute don’t factor in because it’s supposed to be a one-hit kill. Maybe because they’re used to cheap places who can’t or won’t absorb the costs of making things compliant but ADA isn’t meant to get rid of locations but bring them up to code. Thus using it as a weapon to get rid of voting places makes perfect sense to them if they think nobody’s willing to spend money on something they think is a waste of time (aka projection). Or you know, troll logic.

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  10. James Pearce says:

    @MarkedMan: No, my reaction was, “Let’s find out what’s really going on here.” Horrible instinct, I know.

    But slightly better than “Aha, I can use this to prop up my narrative.”

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  11. Kathy says:

    This is the kind of thing I mean when I say the party in power will do anything it can get away with.

    Protest works to counter such moves, also outrage (because it sparks protest), which is why both parties are always trying to manufacture outrage. This leads to a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, with people becoming desensitized to outrage, ergo the Orange Moron in the WH today, even though the outrage was, and remains, very real.

    I want to think most people still believe every vote should count, and won’t stand for voter suppression; but I’m not sure I am right. Things have evolved to the point that mainstream bigotry and discrimination needs to be hidden behind a cloak of plausibility. Ergo voter suppression is cloaked behind fantasies of rampant voter fraud (I know electoral fraud firsthand; the US is ill-suited structurally for much of it).

    The notion of some polling stations not being ADA compliant was not plausible. That’s how come sanity suddenly broke out.

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  12. Greg says:

    @Gustopher:
    You have heard of ad blockers, right?

    As a resident of Atl, Ga area, this has been on the radar locally for a bit. Luckily the exposure has changed the course for the better.

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  13. Hal_10000 says:

    You just *knew* there was a damned consultant at the bottom of this. They wreck everything.

    The analysis I saw indicated that the polling places being closed were in the more remote areas of the district, not in the towns. So it’s possible this was an innocent attempt to save money, I suppose.

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  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: I was wondering… But I see my mistake now–I never look at the ads.

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  15. An Interested Party says:

    So it’s possible this was an innocent attempt to save money, I suppose.

    That’s the thing, though…because this is in the South and because of the history there, you can’t be certain that racism wasn’t involved…that narrative was written long before any of us were alive…

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  16. mattbernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    You just *knew* there was a damned consultant at the bottom of this. They wreck everything.

    Especially when said “damned consultant” is a supporter of the Secretary of State/Gubernatorial candidate, who was acting on a directive from said Secretary of State/Gubernatorial candidate to find opportunities to “consolidate polling locations.”

    See: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/08/georgia-voter-suppression-brian-kemps-bid-for-governor-depends-on-erasing-the-black-vote-its-working.html

    I’m not suggesting that incompetence isn’t a factor here. But it definitely appears that there might be other structural factors at play.

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  17. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: One should almost hope so, else it is an example of almost staggering political incompetence / arrogance.

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  18. Matt says:

    @Greg: I use adblock+ which is a firefox plugin.

    I disabled ad blocking on this website though. I’ve been visiting this site for 14 or so years now and I think James deserves some assistance with upkeep.

    What’s funny is this place started off as one of the sane conservative counterparts to the liberal blogs I went to (freepers lol). I generally disagreed with the opinions expressed here but at least they were grounded in reality and logic. One of the liberal blogs (crooksandliars) I would visit back then actually banned me from commenting many years ago. The ban was because I corrected an author who got basic facts wrong in a gun related article. I don’t mean facts like calling a magazine a clip. I mean facts like saying ar-15s are fully automatic weapons. My account there was almost 10 years old so it wasn’t a case of them thinking I was a new troll. Meanwhile here I’ve had straight up arguments with James and he’s never so much as given any indication of threatening me with a ban.

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