When a passionate crowd rallied to save polling places in rural Randolph County, it won a high-profile battle for voting access. But voters trying to preserve their local precincts are losing the war as voting locations are vanishing across Georgia. County election officials have closed 214 precincts across the state since 2012, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That figure means nearly 8 percent of the state’s polling places, from fire stations to schools, have shut their doors over the past six years. Voting rights activists see the poll closures as an attempt to suppress turnout by African-American voters, but local election officials say they’re saving taxpayers’ money by consolidating precincts at a time when more Georgians are taking advantage of early voting.
These precincts have been eliminated without federal government oversight. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 removed requirements under the Voting Rights Act for some local governments to obtain federal clearance before making changes to voting practices, such as closing precincts. The requirement was created specifically to prevent discrimination in mostly Southern communities with a history of poll taxes and other measures aimed at preventing minorities from voting.
The state doesn’t monitor the closure of polling places either. The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office did not know how many precincts had been eliminated until told by the AJC.