CUTHBERT, Ga. (AP) — Election officials in a majority black Georgia county voted Friday to scrap a widely condemned proposal to eliminate most of their polling places.
The elections board in Randolph County said concern about the proposal to close seven of nine voting locations in the rural county was “overwhelming,” and is “an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle.”
Black voters said they’d be disenfranchised by the plan to shutter the voting locations, which were just used in this year’s primaries.
An independent consultant recommended their closure because they don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The county fired that consultant on Thursday.
Opponents questioned why a county would make it harder to vote during the hotly contested race for governor. Georgia’s top elections official, Republican Brian Kemp, is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would become Georgia’s first black governor. Both said they oppose the plan.
The polling places in question had all been used for the primary election in May and the primary runoff election in July, and officials should have been aware of ADA compliance issues. Randolph County and the Department of Justice entered a settlement agreement in 2012 promising to fix the violations in three years. The settlement specifically included a section on polling place compliance. Aside from a grant used to fix issues in the courthouse, the updates didn’t happen, county attorney Tommy Coleman said.
Civil rights groups had protested the plan. The circumstances surrounding the proposal leave “a reasonable observer to wonder whether the real motive behind these closures is indeed to make it harder for African Americans to cast a ballot,” American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia attorney Sean Young said in a letter sent to county officials Aug. 14.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU of Georgia sent a joint letter Wednesday to election officials in all 159 Georgia counties, urging them to avoid polling place changes that could disenfranchise voters.