Activists Might Just Win This One…
Fight To Keep Polling Places Open In Georgia Could Help Set A Huge Precedent Going Forward
Update: They did! All polling places in Randolph County will remain open this election day.
The ACLU has been fighting for some time to head off an effort by the election board in rural Randolph County, Georgia to shut down all but 2 of the county’s 9 voting places. Randolph County — a bit closer to the Florida Panhandle than it is to Atlanta — is 60% black, has one of the highest voter registration rates in the state, and one of the polling places scheduled for closure has almost 96% African-American voters. The county has a population of around 8,000. It also has no public transportation system.
And although they’ve yet to prevail, with the election board expected to make it’s final decision later this week, activists are starting to see some daylight:
- The current Georgia Secretary of State, and Republican nominee for Governor, Brian Kemp, is urging county officials to back off, and leave the polling places in place that were used in this year’s primaries and run-offs. (That’s despite the fact that he’s accused the Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams of working to add fake voters to Georgia rolls. She’s accused him of using discriminatory tactics to suppress votes.)
- In addition, a petition effort is underway, and it’s not just an empty gesture as petitions sometimes are. Georgia has a law that forbids the closure of a voting site if 20-percent of registered voters in the precinct in which it’s located object.
- The county election board has been busy trying to explain it’s making the changes because many of the current polling places are not compliant with rules providing access for people with disabilities. And says voters can use mail-in ballots. The ACLU has a very common sense response to that: “You don’t solve problems of accessibility for people with disabilities by reducing access for people without disabilities”.
- And then there’s the Voting Rights Act, which is still the law of the land despite being weakened by the Supreme Court in 2013. Still, if the move by the election board is found to be discriminatory, the federal government can order it reversed.
However, it’s a lot more cumbersome than it used to be to prove a county or state is being deliberately discriminatory. In the past, this type of underhanded move would’ve automatically been reviewed by the Justice Department. Then came the 5–4 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby vs. Holder, which found that type of review is actually unconstitutional because it’s based on circumstances from 40 years ago when the law was first passed, and since the type of racially discriminatory practices that existed 40 years ago no longer do, the automatic review is no longer needed. (Or so said Justices Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Thomas and Scalia, who were in the majority in the decision.)
You still sure about that?
Of course, Congress could pass a law reinstating automatic reviews in certain states. Don’t hold your breath.