The architect of the proposal to shut down most of the polling sites in a predominantly black rural Georgia county described the plan as a cost-saving measure that helps local government comply with federal disability laws.
Mike Malone, the elections consultant who proposed the changes, told Randolph County residents at “courtesy” meetings on Thursday and Friday that the attempt to close seven of the county’s nine sites were motivated by light turnout and accessibility issues.
“Is this the right time? The answer is no. It’s not. The reason it’s not the right time? It’s never the right time. Should we wait for the presidential year? Should we wait for an off year?” Malone said.
“The main thing is not everyone is going to be happy with the talk of consolidation whether it be now or two years down the road.”
The timing of the proposal, weeks before the marquee November race for governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, has drawn outrage from national voting rights groups and scorn from local residents. Both Abrams and Kemp have staunchly opposed the closures.
The ACLU and other civil rights organizations see thinly-veiled discrimination behind the attempt to shutter the seven of nine polling sites in Randolph County, a Democratic bastion about 140 miles southwest of Atlanta. One polling site to be shuttered is in a precinct where more than 95 percent of voters are African-American.
Dozens of Randolph County voters also vented anger at the proposed changes, noting that the polling sites were open during votes in May and July. Legal action seems likely to follow if the closures are formally approved at a meeting set for next week.
“The bottom line with this — it’s about race. That’s the problem this is creating,” said Henry Cook, a Randolph County resident who ripped into the proposal at the Thursday meeting. “We might as well get our act together with the ACLU and get ready to file a lawsuit.”
Malone was hired as a consultant earlier this year after a local supervisor abruptly quit. At Friday’s meeting, county official Scott Peavy said he called Kemp’s office — as secretary of state he oversees elections — and that one of his deputies suggested he hire Malone because he is certified to run elections. Financial records show Malone donated $250 to Kemp’s campaign this year.
Facing skeptical local residents, Malone said Randolph could violate the federal American Disabilities Act by keeping polling sites that aren’t accessible open. And he invoked early voting alternatives when calling criticism that the move would suppress minority votes the “absolute farthest thing from the fact that there is.”
“I don’t understand how somebody could say (that) if you’re going to consolidate it would disenfranchise voters,” said Malone.
Watch his full remarks here in footage obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: