Memorial Gym in Macon was under renovation in February when local election officials suggested a new temporary polling place for voters in the majority-black neighborhood: the Sheriff’s Office. Local officials said it was a sincere effort to find a safe location to host voters. Residents, who have seen several polling sites close and have raised concerns about racial profiling by police, decided they’d had enough. “When voter suppression still exists and when we have to stand up for what we believe in and what is right, we will do it,” said Gwen Westbrooks, who helped organize a response that stopped the move. Dozens of polling places have closed, consolidated or moved across Georgia since the last presidential election, worrying some voter advocates over how that might affect turnout heading into this year’s contest. Local officials say the closures are money-savers and more efficient, especially at a time when there is increased access to early voting. Some voter activists, however, fear it is a tactic to limit voting access, especially for the state’s minorities.
Proposals to close voting precincts in counties including Macon-Bibb, Hancock and Upson have all raised the ire of activists. Other counties have considered changes but either haven’t acted on them or have passed on the idea.
“There were many factors that influenced our decision, but none of them had anything to do with race or making it more difficult for anyone to vote,” said Robert Haney, the chairman of the Upson County Board of Elections, which cut its polling sites from nine to four. Haney said reasons for the cuts included security and a struggle to find qualified poll workers.
The estimated savings, he said, would be between $15,000 and $20,000. And the use of early voting in Upson, he said, meant about half of voters normally cast ballots before Election Day, anyway. “That factored greatly into our decision,” Haney said.