ACLU of Georgia

Letter to Irwin County Board of Elections and Registration

On April 21, 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent a letter to the Irwin County Board of Elections and Registration demanding that it shelve plans to slash the number of polling places in a way that would make it significantly more difficult for African American and low-income voters to cast a ballot.  One proposal under consideration would have closed six polling places, including the polling place in African-American majority Ocilla, and put the only two remaining polling places in overwhelmingly white areas.

 

These measures appeared to directly target African American voters and would have made it significantly more difficult for African American and/or lower-income voters to cast a ballot. By targeting Ocilla — which has the highest concentration of African Americans anywhere in Irwin County… the first proposal had the effect, if not the intent, of making it disproportionately harder for African Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote.  Thus, this measure likely violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and potentially the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well. The ACLU of Georgia urged the board reject these proposals.

 

Under the Board’s proposal, the only two remaining polling places left open would be located in Irwinville, which is 96% white and home to the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site, and in the east side of Irwin County, which is also largely white.

 

A second proposal under consideration would have consolidated all eight Irwin County polling places to a single location in Ocilla.  This would cause long lines and make it harder for low-income voters without vehicles to get to the polls.

 

Irwin County is a sparsely populated county in which the overwhelming majority of black voters are concentrated in the county seat of Ocilla. To address budgetary issues, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia issued a report in December 2016 with recommendations to the Irwin County Board of Commissioners on how to cut costs.  The report, among other measures, recommended reducing the number of polling locations from 8 to 3–leaving one polling place in Irwinville, one in Ocilla, and another in the east of the county.

 

Instead of implementing the recommendations in this independent report, the Board of Elections proposed two alternative polling configurations – both of which would make it more difficult for African Americans and/or lower income voters to get to the polls.

 

The ACLU of Georgia and coalition partners went door-to-door to inform local residents of the board’s proposals and tell them about  the board meeting. Residents spoke out against the proposals to close their polling locations. Listening to the Irwin County voters, the board voted kept the polling locations open.