Voting rights activists in Georgia say they will launch a petition drive in an effort to collect enough signatures of registered voters to block a proposal to close more than two-thirds of polling precincts in a predominantly black county ahead of this fall’s general election. The plan to shutter the voting sites in Randolph County, a rural community about 2½ hours south of Atlanta, has drawn dozens of local residents and progressive groups to two public hearings in recent days. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a formal protest with the county’s board of elections. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, which oversees elections operations throughout the state, has issued a statement urging Randolph County officials to “abandon this effort.” Kemp also is the Republican nominee in one of the country’s most-watched gubernatorial contests. The Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator, is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor.
The two-member county election board – a third member stepped down recently – has scheduled a vote for Friday on the proposal to shutter seven of the county’s nine polling places, citing problems including facilities in disrepair or inaccessible to people with disabilities. But some activists are suspicious of the board’s motives, noting that Randolph County is more than 55 percent black and many residents have low incomes. The county, which covers 431 square miles, has no public transportation system.
All nine of the polling places were used for the May primaries and less than a month ago for statewide runoffs, in which Kemp, helped by an endorsement from President Trump, beat Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for the GOP nomination.