Poll closure plan defeated in rural Georgia’s Lincoln County

November 30, 2021 Atlanta: Sonya Collins (left) receives her ballot from poll workers, Brandy Allen (center) and Quay Edwards (right) at Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.  (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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November 30, 2021 Atlanta: Sonya Collins (left) receives her ballot from poll workers, Brandy Allen (center) and Quay Edwards (right) at Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, November 30, 2021. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Election board backs down on proposal for one voting site after protests

Election officials in rural Lincoln County on Wednesday voted against closing all seven of the county’s polling places, a plan that would have replaced them with one new central voting location.

The unanimous 3-0 decision to keep every polling place open followed months of protests and petition drives objecting to the proposal, saying it would limit voter access in the county, located north of Augusta.

“The voters of Lincoln County spoke loud and clear on the proposals to consolidate polling locations,” said Cindy Battles of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, a voting rights group that helped organize opposition to the poll closure plan. “We are incredibly happy the board of elections listened to them.”

The elections board backed down from the poll closure idea in response to resistance that began late last year.

Voting rights organizations gathered hundreds of signatures on petitions in January that blocked some of the poll closures from moving forward. Under Georgia law, a petition signed by at least 20% of registered voters in a precinct can prevent its closure.

“After the public hearings and with the reactions from the people, it was just time to let that go,” Lincoln County Elections Director Lilvender Bolton said. “I just thought we needed to end it, and the board agreed.”

Bolton had supported the precinct consolidation plan as a way to provide voters with a central site for both early and election day voting, eliminating the need for small, little-used local precincts. With one large voting location, Bolton said there would have been plenty of voting machines, no lines and room for social distancing.

The poll closure proposal came after a state law changed the composition of the county election board, giving a majority of appointments to the Republican-led County Commission. Lincoln is one of six counties where the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly reorganized local election boards.

“I want to restate what the purpose of it was: It was not to suppress any voter in this county,” said James Allen, chairman of the county election board. “What it was for is the convenience of the electors in the public interest.”

Across Georgia, county election boards closed 214 precincts between 2012 and 2018, nearly 8% of the state’s polling places, according to a count by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.