01/16/2018 — Jonesboro, GA - City leaders of Jonesboro, including mayor Joy Brantley Day, third from left, and the city manager, Ricky Clark, Jr., second from right, pose for a photo following the demolition of buildings along Broad Street in downtown Jonesboro, Tuesday, January 16, 2018. The city of Jonesboro is hoping to attract its residence and entice its visitors by upping its downtown revitalization efforts. They will start the process by tearing down a row of dilapidated buildings on Broad Street. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Groups oppose moving voting precinct to Jonesboro police station

A voting precinct was moved to a police department in the city of Jonesboro, raising objections from civil rights groups that say the move will suppress turnout.

People of color and voters who have experienced negative interactions with police could be less likely to vote inside a police department, the groups wrote in a letter to Jonesboro officials Monday.

“While we recognize that many outstanding law enforcement officers risk their lives every day … many black voters are well aware of the role law enforcement officers played in suppressing the black vote in the South — particularly in the time leading up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Julie Houk, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

City Manager Ricky Clark said the polling place had to be moved for this year’s municipal elections. The existing precinct at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum is under construction for a redevelopment called the Broad Street Project.

“The chambers of the police department where the polling place will be located is the exact location where all Council meetings of the city of Jonesboro take place, which makes it the most comfortable and familiar location for residents of the city of Jonesboro who will be coming to vote,” Clark said.

Jonesboro City Hall doesn’t have enough space or parking for Election Day, but it will still be used for early voting, Clark said.

He also said the City Council’s vote on Sept. 3 to move the precinct complied with a state law prohibiting polling place changes within 60 days of an election. The Council’s vote came 63 days prior to Election Day on Nov. 5.

Houk said elections should be held in schools, churches or public buildings that are a more neutral setting than the police department.

The civil rights groups are the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the New Georgia Project and the Clayton County Branch NAACP.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia also objected to the new polling place, sending a letter to election officials Tuesday urging them to reverse the decision because the Voting Rights Act prohibits intimidating anyone attempting to vote.

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