Accuracy in Media

The Associated Press reported an ACLU claim that a proposal to close “about 75 percent of polling locations in a predominantly black south Georgia county” would amount to voter suppression.

The story continues:

“The Randolph County elections board is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss a proposal that would eliminate seven of nine polling locations in the county, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. Included in the proposed closures is Cuthbert Middle School where nearly 97 percent of voters are black.

“‘There is strong evidence that this was done with intent to make it harder for African Americans,’ ACLU of Georgia attorney Sean Young said. The ACLU has sent a letter to the elections board demanding that the polling places remain open and has filed open records requests for information about the proposal to close the polling places.”

The piece details the ACLU complaint and its allegation of voter suppression against black Georgians.

But this is “a little story about fearmongering,” according to Pepperdine Law professor Derek Muller.

Muller writes:

Here’s a little story about fearmongering. It’s also a little story about how election officials may have good intentions but not anticipate problems. But the thing it’s almost assuredly not about? Voter suppression.

Randolph County, Georgia is a tiny rural county with a population of 7700. It has 2897 votes cast in the presidential election in 2016, and 4032 registered voters as of August 1. 55 percent of registered voters are African-American.

Fifty-seven percent of those votes were cast in two of the county’s nine precincts: Cuthbert/Courthouse (1172 votes, which went 63 percent to Clinton), & Shellman (491 votes, 64 percent Clinton). About 60 percent of the county’s registered voters are here (1755 at Cuthbert/Courhouse, 672 at Shellman).

That means that a minority of the county’s voters are sprinkled among the other seven precincts. Take Fountain Bridge-4th, which had just 82 votes cast (86 percent for Trump).

The county, faced with cost issues, accessibility issues, increasing absentee/early voting opportunities, and the like (we have fairly general evidence–more on that later), understandably proposed what many jurisdictions do: eliminating Election Day polling places.

There are 1534 African-American registered voters who reside in those two precincts. They’re 63 percent of voters in those precincts. 691 reside in the other seven precincts that would be closed. They’re 42 percent of the voters in those precincts.
It’s worth pausing for a moment. The closure of the seven precincts will disproportionately fall on the shoulders of white voters, not African-American voters. (Maybe it’s worth a long pause.)
Do the closures affect African-Americans? Certainly. They also affect white & Hispanic voters. But to claim “suppression” suggests that it’s *targeting* African-Americans–a tough claim to make given that white voters face the brunt of the closures.


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