WASHINGTON — It warms the heart to see the newfound concern that Georgia has for its disabled residents.
Election overseers were worried sick that the disabled in Randolph County, a rural hamlet where 60 percent of residents are black and nearly a third live in poverty, might arrive at their polling place and find they had to park on grass or, worse, that there was no railing next to the toilet seat.
And so, bless their hearts, the officials did the compassionate thing: They proposed to close seven of the nine polling places in Randolph. Now disabled people would simply have to haul themselves up to 30 miles round trip to one of the two remaining precincts.
“Folks, I will tell you right now, your polling places are not ADA-compliant, period,” Mike Malone, a consultant hired by the county at the suggestion of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office, explained at a public meeting last week. The county had run afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act! “You have to have compliant polling places,” Malone said.
Many of those present expressed suspicion that the election officials’ motive was concern for the disabled, rather than, say, suppressing African-American voters.
Indeed, why would anybody suspect this?
Well, maybe because voters in African-American-majority Randolph went for Hillary Clinton by 11 points. Maybe because in a county where there is negligible public transportation and nearly a quarter of households don’t have a car, eliminating 78 percent of polling places (including one where nearly 97 percent of voters are black) pretty much guarantees people won’t vote.
And maybe because the proposal’s author, Malone, was suggested for the job by the office of Secretary Kemp — who just happens to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who just happens to be black.
Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t about toilets. Maybe this is a flagrant example of the expansion of voter suppression nationwide, aggravated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 weakening of the Voting Rights Act.
Andrea Young, head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which is fighting the Randolph proposal, said poll consolidation is one item “in the voter-suppression tool kit” that includes purging voter rolls and voter-ID laws.
Why are Republicans getting so brazen? Their political survival depends on it.
Kemp has said that he had nothing to do with Randolph’s move, that counties have wide latitude in elections and that he “strongly urged local officials to abandon this effort.” The state GOP blames Democrats, saying, “The county is run by a Democratic-majority county commission.” (A two-member county elections board will rule on the proposal Friday.)
But the county had no plans to cull polling places before Malone. Several months ago, when county elections chairman Scott Peavy had an opening for an elections supervisor, he called the secretary of state’s office, and elections director Chris Harvey, a Kemp lieutenant, “gave me Mr. Malone’s information,” Peavy said at a public meeting. (Malone has made a $250 contribution to Kemp’s campaign.)
Curiously, officials didn’t fret about ADA compliance during the May primaries and the runoffs last month.
Curiously, emails show officials were working on the precinct-elimination plan for months, but they now say there’s no time to fix ADA violations.
But be assured: The hardy few who would still trek to the polls in Randolph would enjoy up-to-spec toilets.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist. You can follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.