Precinct closures in rural Georgia approved by county elections board

Election officials voted unanimously Monday to close three rural precincts in Randolph County, a year after protests helped stop more far-reaching closures of voting locations.

The Randolph County Board of Elections voted 3-0 to approve shutting down three overwhelmingly white precincts that lacked accommodations for people with disabilities. Last year’s plan would have closed seven of nine precincts in the majority African American county.

The decision to reduce voting locations was billed as a cost-saving effort in a southwest Georgia county whose government lacks money to pay for repairs of precincts housed in aluminum buildings that serve as volunteer fire stations.

Rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars to make precincts accessible to people with disabilities, the county will save roughly $4,500 per election by closing those polling places.

This year's debate over precinct closures lacked the outcry seen last year, when local voters and national voting rights organizations successfully rallied against the effort to reduce voting access just weeks before the heated election for governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp.

“The public was more in agreement,” Michelle Graham, a member of the elections board, said earlier this month. “They gave suggestions about which ones they didn’t want closed, and we listened.”

But opponents of closing precincts said fewer polling locations will result in less people being able to exercise their fundamental voting rights, no matter whether they’re black or white.

“Making it more difficult, more time consuming and more costly to vote by closing polling locations is always wrong, regardless of the race or voting history of the voters most impacted,” according to a statement this month from the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Abrams.

The precincts set for closure have the fewest numbers of African American voters in the county. In all, 447 white voters and 54 black voters will be reassigned to other precincts.

A growing number of precincts have been shut down in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 removed requirements under the Voting Rights Act for some local governments to first obtain federal clearance.

County election officials closed 214 precincts across Georgia between 2012 and 2018, according to an analysis The Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted last year.