Fulton County election board members on Thursday unanimously approved closing, consolidating or moving several polling locations in precincts that are mostly African-American, a decision officials said was meant to streamline how voters cast their ballots on Election Day.
They also said many of the locations had seen Election Day usage decline as the popularity of early voting has surged.
Voting advocates, however, warned that the changes could disenfranchise voters. In a letter to the board, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law along with several Georgia groups said they believed officials have not fully considered “the significant burden and negative, disparate impact the closure of these polling locations will have on low income and minority voters,” including those who typically walk or take public transportation in order to cast their ballots.
It’s the second time this week that advocates have taken issue with how Fulton has handled voting and election issues, after they complained about notices sent by the county to voters who filed change-of-address forms but didn’t update their voter registration.
While the board voted overall on 12 proposals — including tweaks to precinct boundary lines and polling place name changes — four proposals in particular drew the ire of voting rights advocates:
- Consolidating Precincts 10E and 10P, which had voted at Harper Archer Middle and Towns Elementary schools, respectively, and relocating the new consolidated precinct to the Aviation Community Culture Center. The center is between 1.3 and 1.5 miles from the former voting locations. About 2,100 voters are affected.
- Moving Precinct 12F from its current polling site at the John Birdine neighborhood facility to Fulton’s Southeast Library, which is 1.8 miles away. About 850 voters are affected.
- Moving Precinct 11C from Fickett Elementary School, which is a distance outside the precinct’s boundaries, to the Southwest Art Center, which is across the street from the boundary line. Officials said they recommended this move because of confusion among voters about where to vote, since Fickett is located within the boundaries for Precinct 11B, which votes at the nearby Bunche Middle School. The arts center is located 4.2 miles from the elementary school. About 2,600 voters are affected.
- Move Precincts 10H1 and 10H2 from Peyton Forest Elementary School to the nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which is less than a mile away. About 2,300 voters are affected.
Fulton Director of Elections and Registration Richard Barron said the county typically tries not to disrupt voters’ routines unless necessary. He said the changes were recommended only after careful study. For three of the four proposed changes, early voters in most of those precincts typically accounted for at least one-third of all ballots cast — meaning they weren’t voting at the precinct location on Election Day.
“We do look at things like race, the number of voters in a precinct, early-voting turnout, distance to the new polling location,” Barron said. “We don’t like to move polling places. We like to have consistency so voters know where they can go all the time.”
Barron said the county will notify voters directly about the changes, sending both head-of-household mailings as well as new precinct cards. Registered voters can also look up current voting locations online at the Georgia Secretary of State Office’s “my voter page” website: www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.