Georgia voting rights activists and social media users alike are scolding city officials in an Atlanta suburb after they approved a change to move a polling place in a majority Black community to the local police station.
“Vote in a police station? Good God, even for Georgia…” @audiomagnate tweeted Sunday.
“This is clear intimidation,” @CristinaMBecker tweeted Monday.
“This is unbelievable! These people will stop at nothing to suppress the vote,” @Selena3t tweeted Tuesday.
Jonesboro City Manager Ricky Clark told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the polling place, originally at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum, had to be moved because the facility is under construction for redevelopment.
“The chambers of the police department where the polling place will be located is the exact location where all Council meetings of the city of Jonesboro take place, which makes it the most comfortable and familiar location for residents of the city of Jonesboro who will be coming to vote,” Clark said.
He also told the AJC the City Council’s vote on Sept. 3 to move the precinct complied with state law prohibiting polling place changes within 60 days of an election, the next one being Nov. 5.
Representatives from the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, New Georgia Project and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law signed a letter opposing the change and sent it to Jonesboro and the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration officials Sunday.
They cited three different Georgia codes the location swap may be in violation of. One of them maintains “a municipality shall give consideration to the comfort and convenience” of voters.
Another code gives voters the right to petition the municipality on or before the hearing date to oppose the proposed change.
If that petition is signed by 20 percent of voters of the precinct, it would prevent the change from taking effect, according to Georgia code.
Another section of code requires officials to publish notice of any proposed polling location change for once a week for two consecutive weeks in the legal organ of the city or county before holding a hearing.
“In this case, it appears that neither the City of Jonesboro City Council nor the BOER gave due consideration to the comfort of voters and poll officials of color before changing the sole polling location for Jonesboro’s municipal election day voting to the Jonesboro Police Department,” voting rights activists said in the letter.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia also sent a letter to election officials Tuesday urging them to reverse the decision.
“Forcing voters to cast their ballots under the steely gaze of armed law enforcement officers all but amounts to government-sponsored voter intimidation,” the First Amendment advocacy group said in its letter. “In this country’s not-so-distant past, law enforcement officers harassed, arrested, and beat Black people for trying to vote.
“In other instances, Blacks were murdered by factions who refused to let them vote.”
The organization cited as an example an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on Maceo Snipes, a Black World War II veteran killed in July of 1946 by four white men outside a relative’s home in Taylor County when he voted in a statewide primary election.
“It should come as no surprise that placing a polling place in a police station would prevent or deter voters in this community from exercising their sacred right to vote,” the ACLU of Georgia said.