Georgia County Rejects Strategy to Close 7 Polling Areas in Majority-Black Location
CUTHBERT, Ga. &mdash The consultant, a white man, came to the mostly black Randolph County in rural southern Georgia and advisable that it eliminate seven of its nine polling locations. He said the move would save the county funds. He stated the polling places had disability compliance concerns.
But numerous individuals in the county assumed a far more sinister motive, particularly with the state in the midst of a hotly contested election for governor. It pits a Democrat who would be Georgia&rsquos 1st black chief executive against a white Republican who has been called a &ldquomaster of voter suppression&rdquo by his political opponents.
&ldquoI feel it was an work to suppress the vote,&rdquo Bobby Jenkins, 66, a retired Randolph County school superintendent, mentioned after a meeting on Wednesday where nearby residents complained that African-Americans in poor rural locations would be left having to drive lengthy distances to vote. &ldquoThis is one particular common strategy in the Republican playbooks.&rdquo
The Randolph County plan was rejected Friday morning on a 2- vote by the county&rsquos board of elections. The two members, a black woman and a white man, voted hastily and with out comment, leaving a press statement that acknowledged the interest from the news media, residents and civil rights groups.
&ldquoThe interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that defending the correct to vote remains a fundamental American principle,&rdquo it mentioned.
But some say it may possibly not be the final flash point over voting access in Georgia.
Mistrust and poor blood permeates what is shaping up to be a historic election for governor. In the years major up to the showdown amongst Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, and Stacey Abrams, the Democratic former state Home 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 neighborhood 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&rsquos Georgia chapter.
&ldquoWe sort of anticipated a bit of what&rsquos happening in Randolph County, that there may possibly be efforts to close polls ahead of this election,&rdquo Ms. Young stated.
The two candidates, Mr. Kemp and Ms. Abrams, have squared off more than voting rights just before. As secretary of state, Mr. Kemp has overseen Georgia&rsquos elections considering that 2010. He is a fervent fan of President Trump, who has created many baseless claims about voter fraud.
For years, Mr. Kemp&rsquos critics in Georgia, including Ms. Abrams, have accused him of supporting policies that adversely impact minority voters and contravene federal law. They also say he has carried out overzealous investigations of voter registration groups, like one founded by Ms. Abrams. The state&rsquos Democratic Celebration has referred to as on him to resign his current office in order to make sure an impartial election.
Mr. Kemp has insisted that he had absolutely nothing to do with the program to close polling places in Randolph County, and wrote to the county advising it not to go ahead with the strategy.
Unfettered access to the polls for minority voters is important to Ms. Abrams&rsquos election campaign. She has adopted a strategy that relies significantly less on wooing conservative white Democrats in the countryside, as her celebration has done in the past, and more on a surge of extremely 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.
For decades, the federal government acted as a referee on voting troubles in the Deep South below the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the Supreme Court sharply curtailed federal oversight in a 2013 decision.
Before that ruling, a polling-spot consolidation proposal like the a single that has rocked Randolph County would nearly certainly have been subject to preclearance overview by the Justice Department, with the county obliged to show that it would not disproportionately disadvantage minority voters.
Mr. Malone, an independent election consultant, had been hired by the county earlier this year to assist it with voting logistics following the county elections superintendent resigned.
In community meetings final week, Mr. Malone mentioned that the seven polling places were not heavily employed &mdash just 12 folks voted at a single of them in a current election &mdash and that some did not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But when the word got out about his proposal, it struck many as drastic. The civil liberties union wrote to the county that the program would make it &ldquodisproportionately harder&rdquo for black voters to cast a ballot. The Lawyers&rsquo Committee for Civil Rights Below Law threatened to sue, arguing that closing the polling places over accessibility created little sense.
&ldquoForcing elderly, disabled, and other persons with mobility troubles to travel lengthy distances to vote is out of spot with the purported goal of A.D.A. compliance,&rdquo its lawyers wrote to the county.
As Friday&rsquos vote neared, it became challenging to discover anybody, Democrat or Republican, who supported the proposal. On Wednesday, the county lawyer sent a letter terminating the county&rsquos contract with the consultant who advisable the polling-location closings, Mike Malone.
Suspicion also spread that Mr. Kemp was somehow behind the recommendation &mdash a claim he adamantly denies.
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state&rsquos workplace, Candice Broce, stated that an official in her office had recommended Mr. Malone to the county as a qualified election expert, but that he was a single of numerous consultants described.
In public meetings, Mr. Malone has shown a slide saying that a policy of consolidating polling locations &ldquohas come hugely suggested by the secretary of state.&rdquo But Ms. Broce said that Mr. Kemp&rsquos office urged the county to abandon Mr. Malone&rsquos plan.
&ldquoThey require to concentrate on preparing for a secure, accessible, and fair election in November,&rdquo she mentioned. &ldquoOur position on this problem is crystal clear.&rdquo
Some black Georgia residents say they are primed to be skeptical of Republican motives, given the repeated efforts by Republican officials to limit voting access in the name of efficiency or fraud prevention.
Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this year to curtail early voting on Sundays, when many black Christian congregations conduct &ldquoSouls to the Polls&rdquo voting drives. The legislation died after becoming opposed by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at the Atlanta church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when preached.
There have been nearby disputes in counties across the state over polling-place consolidation and other concerns. But Mr. Kemp is the public official who has come in for the most criticism from Georgia liberals and voting-rights activists, who say he has been aggressive in attempting to suppress minority voting.
In 2014, he was recorded encouraging a Republican group to register like-minded voters, and warning them that Democrats have been &ldquoworking hard&rdquo to register &ldquoall these minority voters that are out there and other individuals that are sitting on the sidelines.&rdquo
Mr. Kemp&rsquos supporters preserve that he is a champion of ballot access, noting that record numbers of votes were cast on his watch in 2016 and that the rejection rate for voter registrations that year were ninth-lowest in the country.
&ldquoIf he&rsquos the master of voter suppression, he&rsquos carrying out a terrible job of it,&rdquo Ms. Broce said.
Even so, civil rights groups have engaged with Mr. Kemp over a number of policies. They forced him to adjust voter registration deadlines that contravened federal law, and got him to adjust registration forms that erroneously told new voters that they had to mail in documents proving their name and address.
Mr. Kemp was also sued over a method that starts a procedure of purging voters from the rolls if they do not vote for three consecutive years, though in June the Supreme Court upheld a similar program in Ohio.
Civil rights groups are presently criticizing Mr. Kemp over a law that they contact &ldquono match, no vote,&rdquo in which voter registrations are flagged as &ldquopending&rdquo if a name, address or other details does not precisely match what is in the state drivers&rsquo license database or Social Safety records, down to the letter. If the voter does not right the discrepancy, he or she is dropped from the rolls soon after 26 months.
The Lawyers&rsquo Committee mentioned the method has an &ldquoextraordinarily higher error rate&rdquo and that minority voters are heavily impacted.
Mr. Kemp mentioned in a statement final month that the state law was legal and that a related law in Florida was upheld in federal court. &ldquoNot a single voter whose status is pending for failure to confirm will get rejected this election cycle,&rdquo he mentioned.
He also suggested that complaints about the law had been politically motivated. &ldquoNov. six, 2018, is proper about the corner, which indicates it&rsquos high time for one more frivolous lawsuit from liberal activist groups,&rdquo he stated.
His workplace has also attracted criticism for vigorous investigations of potential voter fraud that some advocates say is overkill. In 2010, in an incident chronicled by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his office participated in a sweeping investigation in Brooks County, Ga., exactly where black candidates had just won a majority on the local college board right after an organized absentee-ballot drive.
A dozen organizers have been indicted on a variety of election-law charges. None had been convicted: A single died ahead of trial, a single was tried and acquitted, and the remaining cases have been dropped in 2014.
A two-and-a-half-year investigation of an Asian-American rights group&rsquos voter registration activities by Mr. Kemp&rsquos workplace ended in 2015 with no discovering any violations, according to The New Republic. Helen Ho, a lawyer who founded group, stated in an interview on Thursday that the complete thing seemed intended to intimidate the group.
In 2014, Mr. Kemp&rsquos office started an investigation into a minority-focused voter registration group that Ms. Abrams founded, the New Georgia Project. The inquiry was prompted by complaints from 16 counties that incorporated suspicions that canvassers might have been acting illegally and submitting falsified documents.
The New Georgia Project responded with a lawsuit accusing state and neighborhood elections officials of failing to appropriately approach much more than 40,000 voter applications, but a Georgia judge dismissed the case a single week just before the November 2014 elections.
The investigation ended with the discovery of 53 fraudulent voter applications. Fourteen canvassers had been referred to the state lawyer general&rsquos office, where they may possibly face fines as component of what the office calls a &ldquocivil administrative matter.&rdquo
No concrete evidence of ulterior motives has emerged in the Randolph County polling-spot controversy. But the Abrams campaign has seized on it as a major campaign theme just the identical. As of Friday morning, a Twitter message about it was pinned at the leading of her social media account.
&ldquoEfforts to suppress the vote & depress voter turnout are alive & nicely in Georgia,&rdquo it read.
Published at Fri, 24 Aug 2018 13:17:47 +0000