RANDOLPH CO., GA (WALB) - The Randolph County Board of Elections has voted unanimously to not close a majority of polling places in the county.
The board met at 8 a.m. Friday at the Government Center in Cuthbert. The meeting lasted less than a minute. WALB News 10's Asia Wilson was at this morning's meeting.
According to the latest census figures, Randolph County's population is more than 61 percent of black, double the statewide percentage. The county population is just over 7,000.
Both gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp opposed the plan.
Congressman Sanford Bishop released a statement calling the proposal a "clear violation of the federal Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution."
Secretary of State Brian Kemp's office released a statement Friday after the board meeting saying "We are pleased that local officials listened to Randolph County voters and rejected this proposal. Now, we encourage them to focus their efforts on preparing for a secure, accessible, and fair election this November."
Abrams released this statement:
The county made national headlines this week after a proposal to close seven of nine polling places, just months ahead of the general election.
County officials said the polling places don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Thursday, the county ended its contract with the consultant. In a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, Randolph County lawyer Tommy Coleman ended the county's contract with consultant Mike Malone. Coleman also says in the letter sent Wednesday that he was enclosing a check for about $2,200 for fees invoiced by Malone.
The polling places in question had all been used for the primary election in May and the primary runoff election in July, and officials should have been aware of ADA compliance issues.
Randolph County and the Department of Justice entered a settlement agreement in 2012 promising to fix the ADA violations in three years. The settlement specifically included a section on polling place compliance. A grant was used to fix issues in the courthouse, but the other updates didn't happen, county attorney Tommy Coleman said.
The seven voting locations at the center of the proposal:
- Cuthbert Middle School
- Fountain Bridge
- Fourth District
It happened in a minutes times. Two Randolph County Board of Election members voted to keep seven of nine precincts opened. This decision made in seconds has voters, lawmakers, and activist all rejoicing.
"I represent this district, so representing Randolph County, this is a relief that voters are not being taken advantage of," said Senator Freddie Powell Sims, Georgia Senator, District 12.
"We are more than happy to know that we're going to be open, we still going to be able to greet the people," said Mary Starling, poll worker.
Mary Starling has worked at the Benevolence precinct in Randolph County for over nine years. When she got word that her precinct would close after a proposal made by Mike Malone, a consultant hired by the County, made her disturbed.
"I felt real bad because they were saying for handicaps it was not good facilities in there. But at Benevolence we have excellent facilities, we have handicap place. We have the running water, the running bathrooms," said Starling.
According to County officials, Malone said that the precincts should be closed because they are inaccessible to the disabled. And Tommy Coleman, the Randolph County attorney said a settlement was made years back to fix the ADA violations.
"In 2012, there was an audit of many rural counties not only Randolph but some others around here where they, the Justice department, came in and as you may expect in a place like Randolph County found a number of the facilities deficient," said Tommy Coleman, Attorney for Randolph County.
However, critics believe Malone's plan to consolidate the polling places because of ADA compliance was an attempt to suppress votes in a majority black county.
"This County has made national and international news. People couldn't believe in 2018, that they were trying a 1960 tactic," said Edward DuBose, Executive Committee Member for the NAACP.
Since the Randolph County Board of Elections was against the proposal. Many residents in what the nation calls a small rural community can be at ease.
"This was a very hard win and it gives me great pleasure to know that we are going to have our precincts open..we are not going to be closing any of them," said Starling.