Why a Rural Georgia County Wants to Close Almost All Its Polling Locations in a Majority Black County

Georgia County Wants to Eliminate Polling Locations
Ben Medina, a polling site assistant manager, holds 'I'm a Georgia Voter' stickers at Taylorsville Town Hall on Super Tuesday March 1, 2016, in Taylorsville, Georgia. Photo by Branden Camp/Getty Images

The board of elections for a rural, southwest county in Georgia that consists of mostly black voters wants to eliminate all but two of the county's polling locations just months before the midterm elections because they're not in compliance with disabilities laws.

During a "courtesy" meeting Thursday night, the Randolph County Board of Elections, a county located near the Georgia-Alabama border, informed residents of the possibility that seven of the nine voting locations would be eliminated since the county did not have time to make them wheelchair accessible before the midterms, according to local media reports.

The seven locations they want to close are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires wheelchair accessibility to all public buildings. As a solution, one board member suggested voters could still apply for an absentee ballot by mail.

Randolph County has a small population, 7,000 people, with black people making up 61 percent. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia said one of the proposed locations to be closed has a 96 percent black population of registered voters. The median household income is just a little over $30,000 per year with a poverty rate of 30 percent, according to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Leaving the county with just two polling locations in a county that does not have adequate public transportation, ACLU said, would make it considerably harder for rural residents to make it to the polls.

In a letter sent to the Randolph County Board of Elections threatening legal action against the county, ACLU Georgia claimed the timing of the proposal was suspicious because the exact same polling locations were used in recent elections earlier this year and because the first black female gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams, will be on the ballot in November.

"We have expected high turnout this fall. You have to ask, why were these polling places enough for the primary and runoff earlier this year, but not good enough for this November's election?" the letter said. "The timing is very suspicious."

Abrams opponent, who happens to be Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose office serves as the top election official in the state, said in a statement he was opposed to closing the voting stations.

"As soon as we learned about this proposal, we immediately contacted Randolph County to gather more information," Kemp said through a spokeswoman. "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."

"If you cut your hand, you don't chop off your arm. You heal the cut that's on your hand," said Sean Young, legal director of ACLU Georgia. "People who don't have a car, they're going to have to walk 3 1/2 hours to get to the closest polling place if this proposal goes through."

The county will vote on the proposed changes August 24, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.