WASHINGTON – It warms the heart to see the newfound concern Georgia has for its disabled residents.
Election overseers were worried sick that the disabled in Randolph County, a rural hamlet where 60 percent of residents are black and nearly a third live in poverty, might arrive at their polling place and find they had to park on grass or, worse, that there was no railing next to the toilet seat.
And so, bless their hearts, the officials did the compassionate thing: They proposed to close seven of the nine polling places in Randolph. Now disabled people wouldn’t have to worry about tripping on turf. They’d simply have to haul themselves up to 30 miles round trip to one of the two remaining precincts.
“Folks, I will tell you right now, your polling places are not ADA-compliant, period,” Mike Malone, a consultant hired by the county at the suggestion of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office, explained at a public meeting last week. The county had run afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act! “You have to have compliant polling places,” he said.
Many of those present expressed suspicion election officials’ motive was concern for the disabled, rather than, say, suppressing African-American voters. Malone assured them this was the “farthest thing from the fact.”
Indeed, why would anybody suspect this? Well, maybe because voters in African-American-majority Randolph went for Hillary Clinton by 11 points. Maybe because in a county where there is negligible public transportation and nearly a quarter of households don’t have a car, eliminating 78 percent of polling places – including one where nearly 97 percent of voters are black – pretty much guarantees people won’t vote.
And maybe because the proposal’s author, Malone, was suggested for the job by the office of Secretary Kemp – who just happens to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who just happens to be black.
Oh, and maybe because Malone showed Randolph residents a slide saying “consolidation has come highly recommended by the secretary of state” – before retracting that claim. Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t about toilets. Maybe this is a flagrant example of the expansion of voter suppression nationwide, aggravated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 weakening of the Voting Rights Act.
Andrea Young, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which is fighting the Randolph proposal, said poll consolidation is one item “in the voter-suppression tool kit” that includes purging voter rolls and voter-ID laws.
Why are Republicans getting so brazen? Their political survival depends on it.
Consider: Clinton won the popular vote nationwide by 2.1 percentage points. But non-voters favored Clinton by 22 points in a Washington Post-Schar School post-election poll and seven points in a similar Pew Research Center poll.
The Post’s polling guru, Scott Clement, reweighted election results for me and found that if all eligible voters cast ballots, instead of the 59 percent who did, Clinton would have won by between four percentage points, using Pew data, and 10 percentage points, using Post data. Some, such as political scientist John Sides, say the difference would be smaller but still potentially decisive in close elections.
Kemp has said he had nothing to do with Randolph’s move, counties have wide latitude in elections and he “strongly urged local officials to abandon this effort.” The state GOP blames Democrats, saying, “The county is run by a Democratic-majority county commission.” A two-member county elections board took less than a minute to reject the closures on Friday.
But the county had no plans to cull polling places before Malone. Several months ago, when county elections chairman Scott Peavy had an opening for an elections supervisor, he called the secretary of state’s office, and elections director Chris Harvey, a Kemp lieutenant, “gave me Mr. Malone’s information,” Peavy said at a public meeting. Malone has made a $250 contribution to Kemp’s campaign.
Malone, at a public meeting, told residents that “I recommended to the board that they seriously consider the consolidation of the polling places.” He justified this based on cost – “a lot of precincts with very low turnout” – and disabled access.
Curiously, officials didn’t fret about ADA compliance during the May primaries and the runoffs last month.
Curiously, emails show officials were working on the precinct-elimination plan for months but now say there’s no time to fix ADA violations.
Curiously, Atlanta’s WXIA reports, Malone previously reduced polling places in two majority-white counties, by 20 percent and 33 percent – vs. Randolph’s 78 percent.
But be assured: The hardy few who would still trek to the polls in Randolph would enjoy up-to-spec toilets.