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Polling Places Become Battleground In U.S. Voting Rights Fight

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Polling Places Become Battleground In U.S. Voting Rights Fight

voting rights

LINCOLN PARK, Ga. (Reuters) – 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.

The Nov. 8 election will be the first presidential contest since the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Georgia and all or parts of 14 other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need federal approval for election law changes like polling place consolidations.

Since the court ruling, the Reuters survey found, more than two dozen local governments in eight of those states have implemented new cuts in polling places. Two thirds of those were met with public opposition.

Four of the states – Arizona, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina – could be election battlegrounds in the fight for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate.


“This is part of the story of voting in the South,” said Willie Williams, a black small business owner from Daphne, Alabama, where polling stations were cut to two from five during last month’s municipal elections over the objections of black voters.

Williams, who still keeps his father’s receipt for his poll tax – the tax some blacks in the South had to pay to qualify to vote before civil rights laws in the 1960s eliminated it – says the reduction was “just another tool in the tool kit for shaving off minority votes.”

Daphne city officials denied any racial motivation, saying the changes were meant to improve safety and create better access and parking for voters.

Still, Isela Gutierrez, a research director at the liberal group Democracy North Carolina, says the effects of such cutbacks can be wide ranging. “The elections boards aren’t lying when they say some of these locations have low turnout and it makes better administrative sense to close them – but the impact can be disastrous.”

Numerous academic studies have found people are less likely to vote the farther they must travel and the longer they must wait in line, which becomes more likely with fewer voting sites.

“Some of these changes individually may affect only a small number of voters, but in the aggregate across the country it will be a very large number of voters,” said Danielle Lang, voting rights counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based voting rights and campaign finance group.

The issue gained prominence in a March primary in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where more than 30 percent of residents are Hispanic. A decision to slash polling places left voters in lines for up to five hours. Republican county officials said they misjudged turnout.


Georgia has been an epicenter for efforts to reduce polling places since the Supreme Court decision. And in that state, which has not backed a Democrat in a presidential election since 1992, polls show Republican Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a close battle for the presidency that could be decided by turnout of minority voters.

“If you want to restrict voter turnout in minority and disadvantaged communities, a good way is to move a polling place somewhere they can’t get to,” said Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the Georgia state legislature.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said race was being unfairly inserted into the debate on polling place changes.

“It’s election officials making adjustments based on the changing ways people are voting,” he said.

A Reuters analysis, using voter registration lists for 2012 and 2016, found at least two Georgia counties where the changes disproportionately affect blacks.

A consolidation plan in Macon-Bibb County closed six polling places in black-majority neighborhoods, and only two in white majority areas. McDuffie County’s decision to eliminate three polling places means two-thirds of the county’s black voters, and one-third of its white voters, will now vote in one location.

Other changes have had little impact on minority voters. In Georgia’s Lumpkin County, for example, where blacks are just 2 percent of the population, officials consolidated seven polling locations into one to make the county compliant with federal disability laws.

Voting rights groups in several states have tried to form patchwork networks to track the changes, which are not well publicized, and then fight back where necessary with threats of lawsuits, petition drives or complaints to federal officials.

In Upson County, Haney said, the elections board dropped a proposal to close a polling site in heavily black Salem, a sparsely populated rural area, after residents pointed out the hardship of traveling an extra 10 miles (16 km) or more.

But the Lincoln Park site, which had just 230 voters cast a ballot in person on Election Day 2012, was more easily combined with a polling place in the center of the nearby town of Thomaston, he said.

Kay King, the only African-American member of the elections board in Upson County and the only one to vote against the voting site closures, said she knew it meant some Lincoln Park residents would not be able to vote.

“They walk to the store, they walk to church – when you don’t have transportation to get to something like this, it makes you not want to do it, you just throw your hands up,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin)

Photo: Louis Brooks (L), talks with Henry Wilder with the Thomaston-Upson County Branch of the NAACP in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Thomaston, Georgia, U.S. August 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell



  1. Patricia McCullough September 16, 2016

    The Dems are aware & should get people out to see that these people can vote.

    1. johninPCFL September 16, 2016

      Mr. Haney says they will hand deliver a ballot to those who can’t get around. I think every person in the affected areas should request a ballot.

  2. A. D. Reed September 16, 2016

    The Dems in Georgia (and other white-supremacy states) should have a long list of people with cars and names and addresses of black voters ready now; they should be calling them up and saying, “I’ll drive you to the polling place on election day,” scheduling every single one of the people who otherwise will be denied the franchise.

    That’s how “souls to the polls” works in states with early voting that allows people to vote on at least one Sunday before election day (as North Carolina did until the GOP took over, though some counties have reinstated it).

    1. Maryrbates2 September 17, 2016

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  3. dpaano September 16, 2016

    It seems to me that the city could get a bus and bus some of these people to the polls rather than let them sit at home and not vote…..and the nearest Democratic group should get in touch with these people about getting a ride to the polls or at least getting them a mail-in ballot. He could even google mail-in ballots and get information on how to get one sent to him. We can’t lose Democratic votes over something as silly as not being able to get a voter to the polls or get a mail-in ballot out to them.

    1. Jon September 16, 2016

      Exactly. Here we both provide ballots for people who cant get to the polls on election day to vote by absentee ballot and provide rides to those who want to vote in person on election day but do not have transportation. Over the years I have donated may hours and a lot of mileage on the various vehicles I owned to drive voters to the polls. If people care, they need to help their fellow man.

      1. BOC September 17, 2016

        Republicans are banking against on a large scale, which multiplies into the impact they so desire, just like the ‘gerrymandering’ they unleashed throughout the country.

    2. BOC September 17, 2016

      What’s happening to them is by republican design. Anytime a group launches genocide on a targeted group, which is their own people, this is just one of the many ploys in their devious bag of ‘dirty tricks’. ‘Tricky Dick’ isn’t dead, neither is collateral damage.

  4. johninPCFL September 16, 2016

    Seems like every person in the affected areas should request a hand-delivered ballot and then sue if it’s not delivered in time to vote.
    Wasn’t Mr. Haney the crooked pol from Green Acres? Seems like his son actually exists in Georgia.

  5. towercam September 16, 2016

    Really??? You start this article about voting rights battleground…and you show us a photo of a couple of guys sitting on their rumps?
    Where are the people who usually do the articles? Who are you?
    Why are they letting you do this??
    Wake up. Get real, please! Sheesh!

    1. BOC September 17, 2016

      In other words, you don’t consider what Whitesides discovered a serious issue or problem?

  6. Godzilla September 16, 2016

    Voting is a Right. Voting down the street is not. As our system continues to erode and we have less and less volunteers to working polling places, this is going to happen. When the Feds pass a law that all polling places MUST be compliant with handicapped access (which is one thing that can be fixed without a stupid law), then polling places will close due to the costs of updating to be lawful. Can’t walk and have no ride, call a damn cab or take a bus. Rights need to be EXERCISED which takes some responsibility. Want to excercise your right to vote, find a way (and an ID) to the polls you are assigned to go. Good grief, you Liberals have no concept of personal responsibility. Grow the F up children, life ain’t easy and it ain’t freaking fair, get over it sheep.

    1. dtgraham September 17, 2016

      Do you apply the same standards to the second amendment gun people? You know, for ch**st sake you can have a gun as long as you have some sense “of personal responsibility”. It takes “some responsibility” after all, right? If you don’t have that, then you can’t vote or have a gun, am I right?

      “Grow the F up children, life ain’t easy and it ain’t freaking fair, get over it sheep.”

      That’s what you said. So if you can’t accept that, then “no gun for you!” Am I right Godzilla?

      “Rights need to be EXERCISED which takes some responsibility. Want to exercise your right to have a gun, then find a way to comply with the law.”

      Your own words paraphrased for your benefit.

      1. Godzilla September 17, 2016

        Loser, I have a concealed carry license and have more range time than all the gang bangers in Chicago combined. All of my local family also carry legally, as do my neighbors, all legally. We get personal responsibility, your ilk have not a clue on the matter. We EXERCISE our Rights, we don’t whine when things become a little difficult, like needing an ID to vote or when the polls are beyond walking distance. Fro the record, my voting poll is 6 miles away from home, but I’m not whining like a little girl, the whining belongs to Liberals, as always.

        1. BOC September 17, 2016

          So you live next to the browns five miles away in the state of Alaska. You’re an or outcast, don’t blame us.

          1. Godzilla September 17, 2016

            No, I live in rural America where we don’t ask or demand a voting polling place on every street corner. We FIND A WAY to get there.

          2. easton September 18, 2016

            you fool, the reason there isn’t a polling place on every corner is because few people live where you live. Do you have any brains at all?
            Well, by 2043 America will be minority majority and far more urban. you will be sitting out in the wasteland being a parasite demanding government benefits.
            I literally can’t read you anymore, reactionary knuckledraggers are not worth my time, I just got to block you. you are half brain dead already so nullifying you all the way will make no difference at this point. Goodbye forever Bubba

          3. dtgraham September 18, 2016

            Then find a way to deal with gun background checks and other common sense gun safety measures.

        2. dtgraham September 17, 2016

          Missouri now allows open carry with no training and no license needed. Just buy the gun and put it in your pants. They call it constitutional carry. Too bad conservatives didn’t have that attitude with voting rights. With the vote, you suddenly need to show some responsibility, and stretch and sacrifice some. Not with guns though.

          1. Godzilla September 17, 2016

            Missouri has a new Constitutional carry law BECAUSE of conservatives who had to override you Liberal governors veto.

            I have a great attitude about voting rights, all citizens of the US, age 18 or above, with no felony convictions (which I think is wrong) has the Right to vote. This don’t imply that a citizen shouldn’t have to prove he is a resident of his voting district, which provides for the House of Representatives at the Federal level. Get a State issued ID, which are mostly free for the purpose of voting in States that require an ID. If one can’t get an ID, because of a physical disability, I’m sure there are agencies that can help, or a neighbor. To claim it’s a problem is bull dookie

            with zero basis of fact, it’s just more Liberal lies that are. brainwashing the weak minded.

          2. easton September 17, 2016

            listen idiot, in Pa. the id law was struck down because they made it next to impossible for people to get ids. They required utility bills in the persons name, but young people who live with their parents, or wives or whatever won’t have such bills. Meanwhile at the DMW you don’t need that to get a license so wealthier kids who have licenses won’t need a utility bill since a drivers license is a form of id. In addition, nursing home id’s were legal id’s but student id’s aren’t.
            I am pretty conservative, I support social security privatization, medicare premium support, supported the war in Iraq, etc. but I simply can’t be in a political party with evil people like you.
            Go to Russia, you would be much happier there.

        3. dtgraham September 19, 2016

          Conservatives just whine like little girls whenever they’re asked to submit to gun background checks or have their magazine capacities limited to something less than being able to kill dozens of humans in seconds. Then the conservative tears start flowing.

      2. BOC September 17, 2016

        Apples and Oranges!

      3. BOC September 17, 2016

        Apples and Oranges! Voting rights are much more serious in my opinion. I want to say that people died for these rights, but I digress. Someone might get a convoluted idea to tie this in with guns.

        1. dtgraham September 17, 2016

          I agree with you. Just pointing out the inconsistencies of Godzilla’s stand on rights.

        2. Godzilla September 17, 2016

          Agreed. Both are Rights, period. Having a Right to do something doesn’t mean it has to be convenient. For some, like women and blacks, voting rights came long after gun rights. Things were sure different in the 1700’s.

    2. BOC September 17, 2016

      Maricopa is justification enough that states, counties and municipalities, should be required to get Federal approval to modify, restructure or close polling places.

      Justification to eliminate polling sites, like Hans von Spakovsky attempts to justify, does not supercede a individual’s right to vote. You didn’t read anything about these downsized locations providing assistance or viable alternatives to those effected voters, especially senior citizens and those with limited comprehension and literacy skills,

    3. easton September 17, 2016

      yeah, white people have a right to wait for 10 minutes and blacks have to wait for 5 hours…white power, amirite.
      you are a pathetic cretin. well, cretin, your attitude makes me, a white man, want to vote Democrat and put in people who realize that voting should not be an all day affair for minorities.
      you are genuinely an ahole. 5 out of the last 6 popular votes for President have been won by Democrats, white nationalists like yourself are on the wrong side of history.
      you don’t have facts or reason on your side idiot. In my suburban voting district I have never waited more than 5 minutes to vote, in downtown people have to wait for an hour…guess where the minorities live?

  7. BOC September 17, 2016

    The is validation enough why the republicans on the hill are exercising their ‘double-standards’ strategy in regards to filling the supreme court vacancy. Denying the president this (his) sworn duty, indicates the system has serious flaws and doesn’t shield it from discrimination.

  8. PrecipitousDrop September 18, 2016

    One major political party supports the right to vote and seeks to extend this franchise to every eligible citizen.
    The other major political party — in response to the election of Black Barrack Obama (check the timeline of states’ voter limitation proposals) — enacts ID requirements, random purging of long-time voters from voter rolls, and eliminating polling places.
    My right to vote is important to me.
    I’m supporting the party that supports my right to vote.


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