The efforts of a prominent Washington, D.C. organization have resulted in a major voting rights victory for individuals of color in a small – but significant – Georgia town.
District-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law led others including the ACLU of Georgia and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in successfully getting election officials in Randolph County, Georgia, to keep open polling sites in the mostly Black precincts.
Officials in the town had voted to close the sites ahead of the midterm elections and as African-American female gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams counts as the favorite to win her race to become the state’s first Black female governor.
“We won,” said Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Our community partners beat back a voter suppression scheme that was being undertaken by officials in Randolph County. Remarkably, officials were trying to shutter 7 of 9 polling sites in this poor, majority Black community,” Clarke said.
The scheme undoubtedly was hatched to silence Black voters in the small rural, low-income community where many residents lack access to public transportation, she added.
“The burden would have been felt heaviest by Black voters, who are three times more likely than white voters to lack access to a vehicle. We pushed back against this textbook example of voter suppression and we prevailed,” Clarke said.
The effort has galvanized national civil rights and voting rights groups aiming to block attempts to suppress minority voter turnout in Georgia and in other states ahead of critical midterm elections, according to USA Today.
The Congressional Black Caucus urged county election officials to drop the plan, saying it would violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act to close the polling sites so close to an election.
“We are deeply concerned that the bedrock tenets of democracy would be under attack should this proposal be adopted and implemented,” the caucus wrote in a letter.
The two members of the Randolph County Board of Elections and Registration voted unanimously not to make changes. The board, which has one vacancy, held two hearings on the proposal.
Tommy Coleman, an attorney for the county in southwest Georgia, said he doesn’t think the board members meant harm by considering the proposal but that it might have been ill-timed.
The issue garnered national attention in part because of the historic nomination of Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who could make history if she wins in November.
Critics of the proposal argue the sites were used for elections earlier in the year and in the years since the county was called out in 2016 for not complying with the ADA.
“Why all of a sudden do you want it to be ADA compliant when you haven’t complied in all of this time?” said Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples Agenda.
By Stacy M. Brown
NNPA Newswire Contributor