UPDATE: Aug. 24, 2018 at 10:15 p.m. ET
On Friday, a Georgia elections board blocked a bid to close most polling places in Randolph County, a predominantly Black county, after critics called it a blatant attempt to undercut Stacey Abrams, who could become the country’s first Black woman governor.
The ruling was a win for Abrams’ campaign, which aims to turn out more rural Black voters.
Abrams released the following statement:
“Today is a triumph, not just for the people of Randolph County, but for every Georgian. In a predominantly Black, rural community, where public transportation is severely lacking, asking voters to travel up to 30 miles to access the ballot box would have been antithetical to our democratic values.
“I applaud Randolph County on its decision keep all nine of its polling locations open—and I recommit to ensuring that all eligible Georgians in every region of our state have access the ballot box, to cast their votes and make their voices heard.”
In less than 12 weeks, a historic midterm election will take place in Georgia. Black people may be kept from voting by Republicans who fear that a Black governor will be elected.
Stacey Abrams, a Black woman, is the Democratic nominee for governor, and her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, is white.
Kemp is tied to a proposal to close seven of nine polling centers within Randolph County — including one in which nearly 100 percent of the voters are Black; and, of the county’s 7,800 residents, about 60 percent Black.
The county’s elections board might accept the plan that uses the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a basis for closing the polling places as they “are not compliant with the ADA, and the board doesn’t have time to fix the problem before the election.”
But, these polling places haven’t been compliant for years. And the same sites were used during the May 22 primary election and July 24 primary runoff.
Why is the elections board only now concerned about fixing the polling sites for people with disabilities
Kemp and Abrams are currently close in the polls.
If Abrams wins the election, she would not only make history in Georgia, but in the U.S., as the first Black woman governor in the country. Earlier this month, former President Barack Obama gave her his endorsement.
Closing the seven polls in the county would nearly make it impossible for some voters to make it to the booths. Randolph County has a poverty rate of 30 percent with a median household income barely over $30,000.
Many voters do not have transportation.
“Public transportation is not a you pick up a phone and call a private driver to take you where you need to go for $35 dollars, $35 each way, so $70 for the right to vote,” said Sean Young, Legal Director of the ACLU.
On Monday, civil rights groups sent a pre-suit demand letter to the Randolph County Board of Elections, objecting to the proposal.
The proposal “smacks of racially motivated voter suppression,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee said in a statement.
“Polling place closures are part of an old and familiar tactic used to disenfranchise African American communities.”
For the seven polling places that are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a suggestion was made to have disabled voters apply for an absentee ballot by mail. The ACLU is also getting involved.
A decision regarding the proposal, from a two-person panel, is set to be announced Friday.
“Every Georgian in every county deserves to have their voice represented at the voting booth and in our government,” Abrams said in a statement. “I am the only candidate in this race with a proven track record of fighting to make sure every Georgian can make their voice heard.”
Kemp, who serves as Georgia’s secretary of state, said in a statement regarding the proposal, he “strongly urged local officials to abandon this effort.”