Georgia local election officials on Monday reversed a decision to close polling places in mostly African-American precincts after critics sued them over the closures and said the changes would lead to confusion.
The decision means three polling places slated for closure will remain open for local elections in November. It marks a victory for voting rights groups that worried the changes would unfairly affect minority voters and sued the board after it announced its decision, saying it did not post adequate public notice ahead of the vote on the changes.
Fulton County is home to Atlanta, which has a mayoral election this year. It’s also Georgia’s most populous county, according to 2010 census data. As of 2016, African Americans made up 44.5 percent of the county’s residents.
“This victory means thousands of Black registered voters will be able to go to their polling place and cast a ballot in this year’s important mayoral election ― without the confusion and disruption that the closures would have caused,” Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which sued the board over the proposed changes, said in a Monday statement.
In July, the five-member Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections unanimously voted to close or change several polling places in black neighborhoods, a decision that would have affected over 5,500 voters, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. At the time, election officials defended the decision, saying there was declining turnout on Election Day at the sites they were proposing to close in part because of the availability of early voting.
The Georgia ACLU sued the board, saying it had failed to meet a requirement under state law that changes be posted once a week for two consecutive weeks before a vote. The board had initially publicly posted the proposed changes on Friday, July 7, before posting them again on Monday, July 10. The board voted and approved the changes on July 13.
A board spokeswoman and the members of the board did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mary Carole Cooney, the chair of the elections board, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the board believed the changes would be too disruptive ahead of elections in November, but left the door open to closing voting locations in the future.
“We heard from members of the public that they would be very inconvenienced and disrupted by certain changes,” she said. “We decided that we would not change anything prior to the November election. We can always revisit that.”
The left-leaning Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also wrote a letter to the board ahead of its July vote, accusing it of targeting precincts in black neighborhoods.
“Each of these proposals significantly and negatively impact voters residing in majority African American precincts,” the group wrote in a letter to the board. With a few exceptions, it added, “none of the precinct closures, relocations and consolidations being considered by the Board appear to negatively affect a single majority White precinct in Fulton County.”
Georgia has been a hotbed of election-related litigation recently. The ACLU is suing Fulton County in state court over notices threatening to remove from the voting rolls residents who had moved within the county. Separately, a federal judge last year ruled that the state’s process for purging voters did not violate federal law. The case is being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
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