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‘We Have the Lawyers’: Activists at the Ready If Election Officials Close All But One Voting Precinct In Rural Georgia County

Rural Lincoln County, Georgia, is in the crosshairs of voting rights advocates because its local elections officials are considering closing all but one of its voting precincts.

Republican-leaning Lincoln County, which is about 50 miles northwest of Augusta, Georgia, the has roughly 7,700 residents with 29 percent of its population being Black, 68 percent white. Local voting rights advocates say closing most of its polling locations will impact not only Black voters but poor white voters as well.

“No one stood up there to say we wanted a consolidated voting location,” said Helen Butler of Georgia’s Coalition of People’s Agenda.

“You’re talking about there’s no public transportation; you’re talking about jobs are not readily available here; you’re displacing people from an 8- to 9-minute drive to a 26-minute or greater drive,” said Rev. Denise Freeman of the potential impacts closing precincts will have on rural voters.

Last year, Georgia imposed more restrictive voting laws with its Election Integrity Act throughout the state, which placed restrictions on absentee and early voting even offering water for voters standing in long lines. The same law also allows the state election board to restructure local election boards. Lincoln County saw its board become on to be restructured.

In an effort to keep more polling locations open, activists exploited a provision within a different Georgia law governing polling place changes which says: “If a petition is presented to the superintendent of a county or the governing authority of a municipality on or before the day set for hearing of the petition for change of a polling place, signed by 20 percent of the electors of the precinct objecting to the proposed change, such change shall not be ordered.”

“Based on the meeting and our 600 plus petitions, they cannot close three of those polling locations at all,” Butler said of the provision. She also says if the Lincoln County Board of Elections officials ignore their petition, the county would be violating the law and voting rights advocates would then seek legal action.

The elections board postponed their planned vote last week to consolidate the polling locations, no word on when they will revisit the issue at the time of this report.

“I’m hoping and praying they will do what’s right, that’s my prayer,” Freeman said of remaining hopeful efforts to close voting precincts will fail.  

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