Bid to close voting sites in mostly black United States county blocked

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Voting rights advocates are claiming victory after election officials in Georgia on Friday killed a proposal that would have closed over three-quarters of a majority-black county's polling sites. Still, it acknowledged the controversy prompted by the proposal and said it would not approve it.

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups forcefully objected to the proposal after it was announced in a local newspaper a few weeks ago.

Black voters had said they'd be disenfranchised by the plan to shutter seven of nine polling places in Randolph County.

"In a county where the median salary is slightly over $30,000 and more than 60% African-American, this plan appears to be a deliberate effort to disenfranchise an emerging and engaged demographic", members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote Thursday in a letter to the Randolph County Board of Elections.

Critics of the plan said it was meant to hinder turnout in a county where nearly 60 percent of the residents are African-American.

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The ACLU of Georgia said in a news release after the vote that the situation "demonstrates clearly the need to reinstate the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act", which required "historically-discriminatory states such as Georgia to obtain preapproval from a U.S. court or the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting any election changes to ensure that proposed changes would not discriminate against protected minorities".

The consultant who proposed the closures, Mike Malone, had already been fired before county officials voted Friday to nix the proposal. "The interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that protecting the fight to vote remains a fundamental American principle".

He said he didn't know what would be done to address the ADA compliance problems, saying the county doesn't have the money to make the necessary fixes, certainly not before the November election. Malone has also financially supported Kemp's campaign, and said at a meeting discussing the proposal that Kemp had urged him to find ways to consolidate polling places, although he later retracted this statement.

"The defeat of this proposal also shows the power of resistance and the impact that we can have by leveraging our voices against injustice", she continued. "Officials in Randolph County saw the writing on the wall". Kemp strongly denied the accusation and said he opposed closing the polling locations. Kemp, who is Georgia's secretary of State, does not have the authority to dictate local precinct locations to county boards of elections, which operate independently of his office.

Until 2013, Georgia was one of a handful of states that had to get changes to its elections cleared by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act.

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