If I were a vote-scrounging Republican politician and I wanted to hustle up some black people’s votes, I would think it generally sound policy not to tell them that they’re too stupid to deserve a vote. State senator Fran Millar, a Republican from the affluent, majority-white Dunwoody section of majority-black DeKalb County here in Georgia, apparently doesn’t feel the same way. In a public Facebook post, he took exception to a plan by county CEO Lee May to open up an extra early-voting site in a South DeKalb mall “dominated by African American shoppers and … near several large African American mega churches”. “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters,” he added in a comment to his post. “If you don’t believe this is an efort [sic] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist. This is a partisan stunt and I hope it can be stopped.” Well, yes. It is a partisan move. It shouldn’t be. The race of voters shouldn’t be a partisan predictor in an ideal world. But here in Georgia, the contests for governor and a US Senate seat are too close to call – and may turn on whether the Democrats can win as much as 30% of the white vote. Seven out of 10 white voters, minimum, are Republicans, and 90% of black voters are Democrats. Here, all politics are racial politics – and the contests are only close because the number of black and Latino voters in the state has grown so quickly.
May denies the move to open up early voting in the mall was partisan. According to Millar, May said that he asked malls all over the county – including in Dunwoody – if they’d host more polling space, but only the South DeKalb Mall said yes. (Other early-voting polls – including one in north DeKalb – will also be open.) Nonetheless, Democrats know that a black turnout may make the difference in the contested races – so the mere act of not inconveniencing black voters is, in some people’s minds, partisan.
Polling locations have always been nakedly political – there’s no point denying it, especially in Georgia. It’s in the same vein as gerrymandered redistricting, restrictive ballot access requirements for third parties and the little “I” that incumbents get next to their names on the ballot.
But this change is also a gigantic middle finger to Republicans intent on suppressing black voters, since it was made possible after conservatives on the US supreme court, at the behest of Republicans, eviscerated the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements last year. Before the ruling, the US Department of Justice would have had to sign off on any polling changes, so any last-minute moves like these would have been impossible.