When Alan Langley, a Republican member of the local elections board here, explains a new proposal to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounds procedural and well-meaning: He speaks of convenient parking and wheelchair access at the proposed polling places, and of saving more than $10,000 per election. Those precincts, however, are rich with black voters who generally vote Democratic. And when the Rev. Dante Murphy, the president of the Cleveland County N.A.A.C.P. chapter, discusses the plan, he talks of “disenfranchisement” and “conspiracy.” “We know,” Mr. Murphy said, “that this is part of a bigger trend — a movement to suppress people’s right to vote.”
The bitter disagreement in this city of 20,000 is part of a broader voting rights battle charged by race and partisan politics that is happening in a number of communities, many of them Southern, where changes to election laws no longer require advance approval from the federal government after a year-old Supreme Court ruling voided a key section of the Voting Rights Act.
Voting rights advocates fear that these local changes — combined with a number of new state laws restricting ballot access and requiring voters to show picture IDs — amount to a concerted effort to reduce voting by minority groups. Conservatives say that the laws ensure against voter fraud, and in some cases are more cost-efficient.