Polling places become battleground in U.S. voting rights fight
Louis Brooks, 87, has walked to cast a vote at his neighborhood polling place in Georgia’s predominantly black Lincoln Park neighborhood for five decades. But not this year.
Brooks says he will not vote in the presidential election for the first time he can remember after local officials moved the polling station more than 2 miles (3 km) away as part of a plan to cut the number of voting sites in Upson County.
“I can’t get there. I can’t drive, and it’s too far to walk,” said Brooks, a black retired mill worker and long-time Democratic Party supporter. He said he does not know how to vote by mail and doesn’t know anyone who can give him a ride.
A Reuters survey found local governments in nearly a dozen, mostly Republican-dominated counties in Georgia have adopted plans to reduce the number of voting stations, citing cost savings and efficiency.
In seven of those counties, African-Americans, who traditionally back Democrats, comprised at least a quarter of the population, and in several counties the changes will disproportionately affect black voters. At least three other counties in Georgia dropped consolidation plans under public pressure.
While polling place cutbacks are on the rise across the country, including in some Democratic-run areas, the South’s history of racial discrimination has made the region a focus of concern for voting rights advocates.
Activists see the voting place reductions as another front in the fight over Republican-sponsored statewide voting laws such as stricter ID requirements that disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters who tend to vote for the Democratic Party.
Several of these have recently been struck down by courts that ruled they were designed to hinder minority voting.
“There is a history in those states of using different strategies to cut voting in minority communities,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“Hogwash,” said Robert Haney, chairman of the Upson County Board of Elections, denying that race was a factor in his board’s decision.
“Nobody is trying to keep anybody from voting,” said Haney, adding that officials would send a ballot to the home of anyone who needed it. He said the cut in polling sites from nine to four was designed to increase efficiency by closing low-turnout sites, saving about $20,000.
Wow! They saved a whole $20,000, what devotion to guarding the public purse. Maybe they’ll find a budgetary reason to close the streets where the remaining polling stations are located.