The Continuing Fight for Voter Rights
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has been dedicated to protecting the constitutional right to vote for all Georgians. The ACLU made it a priority to fight against racial discrimination in voting with the appointment of Laughlin McDonald as the Director of the Voting Rights Project in Atlanta in 1972. Coincidentally, 1972 was the first time I crossed paths with the ACLU in the fight to not only protect voting rights, but also ensure fair and representative elections for Georgians.
After the 1970 congressional elections, my father Andrew Young was determined to not only run for Congress but to win the seat for the 5th Congressional District. Before he could launch his campaign, his district was unlawfully redrawn and the new district line excluded our neighborhood. My father partnered with McDonald and the ACLU to fight the racial gerrymandering of his district under the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. As a result of the ACLU’s actions, my father was able to run in the 5th Congressional district and was elected as the first African-American Congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction.
Thus, when we were contacted by a local activist about Randolph County’s proposal to close seven out of the nine polling locations on the eve of the November elections, I knew the ACLU of Georgia would once again be on the frontlines fighting to ensure the citizens of Randolph County could vote. Randolph County is sixty percent African American, which is twice the percentage as that of the State of Georgia. The proposal would have prevented rural voters without access to transportation from voting in person on Election Day and suppressed the African-American vote in that county.
Our legal director sent an open records request to Randolph County Board of Elections to verify our information and give them an opportunity to provide a legitimate rationale for this proposal. We were the first organization to send a demand letter, informing the board that their proposed poll closures were illegal, and we began consultation with other organizations working in Georgia to defend voter rights. We also notified the local, state and national media of the proposal to close polls in Randolph County. The Randolph County Board of Elections held two public hearings on the closing of the polling places on August 16th and 17th. We attended, gave testimony at both those hearings, and encouraged community members as well as ACLU supporters to attend. We made sure members of the media spoke to local leaders about the poll closings and the impact it would have on their communities.
We knew that bringing legal action alone would not create sustainable change against voter suppression in Randolph County. Thus, we partnered with longstanding and new organizations, including the NAACP of Terrell County, the Coalition for the People Agenda, and the New Georgia Project. We utilized on-the-ground tactics to raise awareness about the poll closures through hosting a phone bank in the ACLU of Georgia office in Atlanta to reach as many registered voters as possible. We also helped bring ACLU staff and supporters to Randolph County to canvass different areas to ensure that registered voters not only knew about the poll closures, but were given an opportunity to sign a petition to block it. In Atlanta, our lobbyist worked with the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus to organize a press conference to oppose the poll closings.
On August 24th, the Board of Elections met to discuss the proposal. The ACLU of Georgia and aforementioned partners, as well as members of the Fourth Estate from Albany to Atlanta to Washington, DC, packed the hearing room. In a meeting that lasted all of 60 seconds, the Board voted to keep all of the polls open.
Our work doesn’t stop here. On August 29th, our community engagement manager attended a mass meeting in Randolph County to discuss the county’s next steps. The future of Randolph County is in the hands of its citizens. We will continue to stand with the people of Randolph County and support their efforts to elect leadership that reflects the values of their community.
This is what Democracy looks like!