ACLU slams proposal to close many polls in Georgia county

Civil rights advocates are objecting to a proposal to close about 75 percent of polling locations in a predominantly black south Georgia county.

The Randolph County elections board is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a proposal that would eliminate seven of nine polling locations in the county, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. Included in the proposed closures is Cuthbert Middle School where nearly 97 percent of voters are black.

"There is strong evidence that this was done with intent to make it harder for African Americans," ACLU attorney Sean Young said. The ACLU has sent a letter to the elections board demanding that the polling places remain open and has filed open records requests for information about the proposal to close the polling places.

County elections board members did not immediately respond Wednesday to a phone message seeking comment on the proposal.

Young and others from the ACLU plan to attend the elections board meeting Thursday.

According to the latest census figures, Randolph County's population is more than 61 percent of black, double the statewide percentage.

The median household income for the county was $30,358 in 2016, compared to $51,037 in the rest of the state. Nearly one-third of the county's residents live below the poverty line, compared to about 16 percent statewide, according to U.S. Census figures.

The closure of polling places will affect those who lack reliable transportation, the ACLU says. Public transit doesn't exist in much of the rural county, and 22 percent of the county's residents have no car. People who currently vote at the polling places that would close under the proposal would have to travel an additional 10 miles to vote, the ACLU says.

With no car or bus to reach a different polling location, this predominantly black, Democratic county will not be able to fairly vote, ACLU of Georgia executive director Andrea Young said.

"If you don't have a car and you want to vote in-person, you have to walk three-and-a-half hours," Sean Young said.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back Voting Rights Act requirements that required many jurisdictions to receive permission before changing ways people are allowed to vote. They used to have to prove the voting changes weren't discriminatory, but that's no longer the case.

"This is an example of what localities are doing without the pre-clearance requirement," Andrea Young said.

In addition to statewide offices, Randolph County voters will also vote for state legislative seats in November. All nine polling locations were used during this year's primary and Republican run-off, so it is unclear why the locations would be closed down, Andrea Young said.


Associated Press writer Russ Bynum contributed from Savannah, Georgia.