Randolph County, Georgia is working hard to become the poster child for the cynicism of the Republican partisans who will stoop to seemingly ever lower machinations to depress voter turnout.
The county describes itself:
“Created in 1828, Randolph County encompasses 429 square miles in Southwest Georgia and is home to 7,719 residents. Randolph is an agricultural county and ranks as the top wheat and sorghum grower in the state. Peanuts, cotton, soybeans, and corn are also important crops for Randolph.”
This isn’t quite all the story. The Census Bureau tells us that, yes, as of 2010 there were 7,719 residents, of whom 61.4% are African American, 37.1% of whom are white. 54% of the county’s residents are female. 11.2% of the residents under the age of 65 are classified as disabled. These numbers are important. Why?
The board of elections for a rural, southwest county in Georgia that consists of mostly black voters wants to eliminate all but two of the county’s polling locations just months before the midterm elections because they’re not in compliance with disabilities laws.
During a “courtesy” meeting Thursday night, the Randolph County Board of Elections, a county located near the Georgia-Alabama border, informed residents of the possibility that seven of the nine voting locations would be eliminated since the county did not have time to make them wheelchair accessible before the midterms, according to local media reports.
The seven locations they want to close are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires wheelchair accessibility to all public buildings. As a solution, one board member suggested voters could still apply for an absentee ballot by mail. [Newsweek]
How interesting! Just at the point at which an African American woman is running for the governorship of Georgia against a white male … the county decides (between the primary and mid-term general election) that it’s time to enforce the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ACLU response is informative:
“If a government building is not ADA compliant, the solution is to make them ADA compliant. If you cut your hand, you don’t chop off your arm, you heal the wound,” he said. “They have had decades to fix these issues and have had elections in these polling places. The better question is why haven’t these issues been fixed? And why, instead of fixing them, are you shutting them down?” (emphasis added)
Why should we not consider the perfectly obvious: It’s a blatant attempt to suppress African American voting
“The closing of three-quarters of the polling places in the county would have a staggering effect on access to vote, according to the ACLU, as it would mean an additional 10-mile journey to the two remaining polling places. “If you don’t have a car and you want to vote in-person, you have to walk three-and-a-half hours,” Young said. One of the polls up for closure is Cuthbert Middle School, where nearly 97 percent of voters are black.” [Slate] (emphasis added)
So, if those non-ADA compliant polling stations were acceptable in previous elections, then why are they now to be closed for the general election in November? I think we have the explanation right here:
Because of its history of racist voting laws, Randolph County was once required to seek federal permission before altering its election procedures. But after the Supreme Court gutted this oversight in 2013, the county was freed to crack down on the franchise. It is no coincidence that its election board chose this moment to shutter most of its polls: In November, the popular Democrat Stacey Abrams will compete for the governorship against Republican Brian Kemp, the current Georgia secretary of state. Kemp, who has devoted his time in office to a ruthless campaign of voter suppression, called upon Randolph County to abandon the plan when it spurred widespread outrage. That being said, the key figure in the Randolph County controversy is a Kemp ally who was handpicked by the secretary of state to close polls throughout Georgia. [Slate]
Kemp needs to suppress African American and female voting. What Kemp doesn’t need is more publicity about this outrageous vote suppression initiative. However, he’s getting it. From Slate, from Newsweek, from the Washington Post, from the Huffington Post, from the New York Daily News. Four days ago the county was trying to explain its rationale, yesterday there were soft signals of a possible walk-back. However, the decision won’t be made until August 24th. Four days more until we see if the “handpicked” Kemp ally is successful in fulfilling his role as facilitator for his white male gubernatorial candidate.
This is why we: (1) Pay attention to what has happened to the Voting Rights Act; (2) Pay attention to the candidates to be Secretary of State; (3) Pay attention to what is happening in small places with small populations, because once these vote suppression precedents are established the GOP will come back for second helpings. (4) Pay attention to local elections and local boards and commissions. This is why we stay vigilant. Why we use social media and all the communication resources at hand. Why we remember that if vote suppression strategies and tactics will depress African American turnout, they will suppress turnout for women, for young voters, for elderly voters, for voters of Hispanic heritage, for any voter unlikely to support the Trumpian tendency toward autocracy.
These upcoming mid-term elections aren’t important — they are ESSENTIAL. Register, check your registration, help other people register, help other people check their registration, then VOTE LIKE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE DEPENDS ON IT. The devil isn’t on the loose just down in Georgia.