ATLANTA (CN) — Elections officials in a rural Georgia county have scrapped a widely condemned proposal to eliminate most of the polling places in the majority black community ahead of the November general election.
In a 2-0 vote, the Randolph County Board of Elections on Friday morning ended its consideration of the closures and preserved access to seven precincts that serve approximately 1,700 registered voters.
County officials say an independent consultant had recommended the consolidation to save money. That consultant has been fired.
The consultant had said during public meetings that the seven polling places slated for closure don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But critics, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the American Civil Liberties Union, questioned the timing of the move, coming as Democrat Stacey Abrams is seeking to become Georgia’s first black governor.
The groups said the proposal would disproportionately impact the black voters who make up 61 percent of the county’s population of 7,000.
Critics of the plan claimed that the closures would place an undue burden on many low-income, minority citizens who may not have cars and lack access to public transportation.
Michael Malone, the elections consultant hired by the county who recommended the closures, was fired Thursday.
Malone’s recommendation to close the precincts was met with widespread opposition from voters and elected officials who worried that the closures would drastically suppress minority voter turnout in Randolph County.
The proposal would have left the county’s two largest precincts open but would have closed the rest.
During public meetings, Malone recommended the closures as a way to save the county money. Malone said that the seven polling places were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that it would be too costly to update them.
Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams and her opponent Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, both announced their opposition to the proposal prior to the vote.
Abrams called it an “unacceptable” voter suppression tactic and Kemp “strongly urged” the local election board to abandon the proposal.
On August 19, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law threatened legal action against the county on behalf of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the New Georgia Project, and the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda.
Following Friday’s vote, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee, took to Twitter to express her approval of the outcome.
“We went into the meeting with court papers in hand today. We’re pleased that officials saw fit to bow both to needs of the electorate and the dictates of the law in rejecting this poorly conceived plan to shutter polling sites. At every turn, we will resist voter suppression,” Clarke wrote.
“Make no mistake, today’s victory was the result of collective resistance and the courage of African American voters in Randolph County, Georgia who refused to stand silent in the face of this discriminatory, voter suppression scheme,” Clarke continued.
Brian Kemp also expressed support for the county’s decision on Twitter Friday morning.
“I was the first to publicly oppose the plan to close GOP precincts in Randolph County, which is under Democratic rule. Today, the Board of Elections – who are empowered to make these decision – finally did the right thing and rejected the proposal,” he wrote.
In a statement, county election officials said their goal is to make sure elections are “fair and efficient.”
“There have been discussions about the number of voting precincts in Randolph County for many years. Randolph County has experienced a decline in population and consequently, a decline in the county tax base. As local residents understand, the County has experienced challenges and has looked for ways to economize. The Board of Elections and Registration is no different,” the statement says.
“In the United States, the right to vote is sacred,” the statement says. “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.”