Advocates, lawmakers speak out against potential poll shutdown in Southwest GA

Advocates, lawmakers speak out against potential poll shutdown in Southwest GA
Updated: Aug. 21, 2018 at 11:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - By Friday, the county board of elections could close all but two of its polling places -  a move drawing backlash from voters, state lawmakers, and disability advocates.

The board's timing, raised flags for Kirk Holcombe, interim executive director of Access 2 Independence in Columbus, who said the last thing he wants to see happen is the over 7,000 people of Randolph County lose access to their right to vote.

"Either the committee should have picked a better location for polling," he said, "or in the meantime, instead of closing them, find volunteers to help the disabled or the elderly."

It's an observation Holcombe wants the board of elections to consider, instead of potentially shutting down 7 of 9 polling locations, because the stations in question have not complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"If you close three-quarters of the polling stations," Holcombe said, " it's going to limit the access - not even it being compliant for people to get there - but the distance they have to travel to even get to a polling station."

While other Georgia state lawmakers have said outside government should not intervene and instead leave the matter to the county board, the American Civil Liberties Union, appearing at the most recent board meeting, argued this proposal violates the Voting Rights Act.

Another outspoken political voice against this measure is Representative Sanford Bishop, whose district covers Randolph County. Bishop said he feels a move to shut polling stations down would disenfranchise a majority African-American population living in the county, facing poverty and a lack of public transportation.

"It would seem to me," Bishop said, "that to inconvenience that large amount of people, in a county that's over 400 square miles, or have people travel as far as 15 miles with no public transportation, who are likely not to have transportation, is thoughtless, and disenfranchisement at worst."

As for other higher-profile statements on this issue, both candidates in Georgia's election for governor, Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp,  urged the board to reconsider shutting polls down and focus on election security and access.

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