Randolph County only part of a bigger battle over ballot access

By Tom Baxter

Last week, in a meeting that took less time than it would have to say a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, the Randolph County Board of Elections voted down a proposal to close seven of its nine polling places before this November’s election.

This was hailed as a victory by Democrats and civil rights groups who brought national attention to the closings, which they said were intended to suppress turnout in this 60 percent-black county a few miles southeast of Plains. Understandably so: Last week’s meeting wouldn’t have concluded nearly so quickly and decisively if it hadn’t been for the heat brought by these groups.

There’s a way you could see the proposal to close the polling places — and some of its defenders do — as part of the larger story of the hollowing-out of rural south Georgia, like the school consolidations and hospital closings which have also affected areas like Randolph County. Other counties around Randolph have already consolidated polling places to reduce costs, and some of the polling sites to be closed weren’t in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“Is this the right time? The answer is no. It’s not,” consultant Mike Malone said of the proposal at a public meeting held to introduce the changes. “The reason it’s not the right time? It’s never the right time. Should we wait for the presidential year? Should we wait for an off-year?”

As it has turned out the answer to the latter question should have been, emphatically, yes. In this year’s heated election atmosphere, such an action was bound to be interpreted as a racial provocation. The board had already fired Malone before it ditched his proposals, which is a convenient thing about consultants. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who received a $250 donation from Malone and recommended him for the job, may find him a little harder to shake.

To put things in perspective, the victory in this incident was measured more by dollars raised in fundraising appeals than votes. A total of 1,221 people voted in Randolph County in the May 22 primaries, with 777 votes cast in the Democratic Primary and 444 in the Republican Primary.

Meanwhile a much larger battle over ballot access rages, with much less scrutiny.

Last week the Macon Telegraph spotlighted two of some 2,500 people who received letters from the Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections informing them that if they didn’t respond in 30 days, they would be classified as “inactive voters” because they’d moved, failed to respond to election-related mail or hadn’t voted in a long time. It turned out the letters were triggered when the board sent out letters about a change in precinct locations, and some of the letters were returned.

One of them was local dentist Lindsay Holliday, a political gadfly and past candidate for office who is anything but inactive.

“I’m definitely an activist, and I’m ready to get active about this,” said Holliday, who claims to have voted in every Georgia election for the past 40 years.

A second Macon voter, Heather Bowman Cutway, was told simply to ignore the letter when she called the Secretary of State’s office, even though she probably should have been advised to send in the stamped card confirming she was an active voter to avoid confusion later.

Across the state, some 35,000 registered voters have received these voter confirmation letters, as they are called. Some will either send back their confirmations or just show up at the polls, but voting rights advocates caution that these letters can be intimidating to younger and less educated voters, who may decide just to skip the hassle and not vote. There are probably a lot more voters who fit this category than there are voters in Randolph County.

Turnout in this fall’s election will probably be well over the nearly 2.5 million who voted four years ago, but the margin, by all indications, is likely to be much thinner. The battle over ballot access could get much more intense.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

1 reply
  1. atlman says:

    The Randolph County thing was just PR for the state and national Democratic Party to drive their voter registration and turnout efforts. The reality: the county is thinly populated and very poor. A consultant informed the county that their polling places weren’t compliant with FEDERAL handicapped access laws, leaving the county open to the possibility of expensive lawsuits that the county cannot afford to fight. And of course, the county could not afford to upgrade the polling places either. So the decision was made by the TWO PERSON NONPARTISAN elections board – one white member and one black member – to close the polling places. The state and national media picks this up as some plot by Kemp to keep blacks from the ballot box, as if the 800 Democrat votes in that county – which isn’t even big enough to have its own high school but instead combines with neighboring Clay County for that purpose – is going to come anywhere close to making a difference. So the election board backs off, which means now the county is out of compliance with federal law, vulnerable to anyone who decides to sue them, and lacks the money to extricate itself from this predicament. And the Democrats and the media can move on from pretending that they ever cared about Randolph County to begin with in their hunt for the next outrage that they hope can distract voters from the fact that Stacey Abrams is the most liberal nominee for governor in Georgia’s history (the state and national media is now laughably trying to recast her as a moderate) while inflaming her base. And no, no state or national Democrat is even talking about ponying up the money necessary to help Randolph County comply with a federal law that Democrats wrote and enacted in the first place, or to help this county should someone sue it for noncompliance.

    This is all related to the whole nonsense idea that Republicans in Georgia and elsewhere gain power by disenfranchising voters. This nonsense began with claims that Jeb Bush disenfranchised black voters in Florida in 2000, which were investigated fully and found to be completely bogus (for example the police checkpoints were nowhere near the polling places, and the police had erected those same checkpoints in previous years when the state had Democratic governors and secretaries of state … plus there is the simple fact that city police departments aren’t under the control of the Florida governor or secretary of state to begin with). Yet similar to Republicans and voter fraud, they can’t point to a single race where properly registered and eligible voters have been “disenfranchised.” There has been no long line of people who wanted to vote but couldn’t for lack of photo ID for example. Why? Because you need photo ID to do practically everything else … for bank accounts, utilities, to receive government services, you name it. Yes there is a tiny percentage of the population that gets by without photo ID, but by and large they tend not to vote in the first place. That’s why vote totals – and the percentage of nonwhite people who vote – increase every year despite alleged attempts to disenfranchise them.

    96% of the media regularly votes Democrat, and this includes overt Republican outlets like Fox News and the Washington Times. Stuff like this is evidence of that bias.Report

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