The clogged polling locations in metro Atlanta reflect an underlying pattern: the number of places to vote has shrunk statewide, with little recourse. Although the reduction in polling places has taken place across racial lines, it has primarily caused long lines in nonwhite neighborhoods where voter registration has surged and more residents cast ballots in person on Election Day. The pruning of polling places started long before the pandemic, which has discouraged people from voting in person.
In Georgia, considered a battleground state for control of the White House and U.S. Senate, the difficulty of voting in Black communities like Union City could possibly tip the results on Nov. 3. With massive turnout expected, lines could be even longer than they were for the primary, despite a rise in mail-in voting and Georgians already turning out by the hundreds of thousands to cast ballots early.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby v. Holder decision in 2013 eliminated key federal oversight of election decisions in states with histories of discrimination, Georgia’s voter rolls have grown by nearly 2 million people, yet polling locations have been cut statewide by nearly 10%, according to an analysis of state and local records by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica. Much of the growth has been fueled by younger, nonwhite voters, especially in nine metro Atlanta counties, where four out of five new voters were nonwhite, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
The metro Atlanta area has been hit particularly hard. The nine counties — Fulton, Gwinnett, Forsyth, DeKalb, Cobb, Hall, Cherokee, Henry and Clayton — have nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38% of the polling places, according to the analysis.
As a result, the average number of voters packed into each polling location in those counties grew by nearly 40%, from about 2,600 in 2012 to more than 3,600 per polling place as of Oct. 9, the analysis shows. In addition, a last-minute push that opened more than 90 polling places just weeks before the November election has left many voters uncertain about where to vote or how long they might wait to cast a ballot.