“In a Georgia County, Deep Distrust Over a Plan to Close Polling Places”

Richard Fausset for the NYT:

The showdown over voting rights in the U.S. Senate may be over for now. But the issue is still smoldering in a stretch of Northeast Georgia countryside where local officials recently introduced a plan to close seven polling sites and consolidate them into one.

The proposal in Lincoln County has attracted the attention and ire of major voting rights groups and suspicion among some Black residents who say the effort is just the latest example of voter suppression in a state where Republicans recently passed a restrictive new law. Hundreds of upset residents have filed protest petitions that could cause local officials to scale it back.

But local officials say the current polling spots are in need of modernization — and that in a county where about two-thirds of the 7,700 residents are white, the plan is simply an effort to make it easier to manage elections. The remaining site would be located close to the polling place that currently serves the county’s one majority-Black precinct.

“They seem to think that I’m trying to stop Black people from voting,” said the elections director, an African-American woman named Lilvender Bolton. She would administer the plan that was under consideration last week by a mostly Republican-appointed board of two Black members and three white ones….

For decades, a proposal like Lincoln County’s would have been subject to review from the Department of Justice to determine whether it was discriminatory, a step mandated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act and often referred to as “preclearance.” But this system was effectively gutted by a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, and has not returned since, despite efforts to revive it like last week’s Senate debate.

David J. Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said the failure to reinstitute preclearance this year was a missed opportunity.

Mr. Becker was careful to note that he could not tell whether Lincoln County’s consolidation plan was politically motivated or well-intentioned. But with preclearance, he said, residents of areas like Lincoln County would at least have had a sense that a third party had taken a hard look at whether a proposed change to voting in their community would make it harder for minority groups to vote.

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