Voting rights groups question reduction of early voting locations in Georgia prior to Senate election

Voter suppression is once again believed to be at the roots of a reduction in polling places in Georgia

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Georgia is once again at the forefront of a highly contested political contest. A Jan. 5 runoff race will determine not just who represents Georgia in the U.S. Senate, it will also determine the balance of power in the governing body. Republican senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are running against Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff respectively in a race that has drawn national attention for its political implications.

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But already, in a state known for its attempts at voter suppression – from the Georgia governor’s race in 2018 that pitted eventual winner Brian Kemp against Stacey Abrams, through this year’s presidential election and President Donald Trump‘s ensuing legal battle – seems to be trying to discourage certain voters.

Stacey Abrams Georgia runoff Cobb County thegrio.com
LILBURN, GEORGIA – DECEMBER 07: People attend a rally with former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, on December 07, 2020 in Lilburn, Georgia. Ossoff is running against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) while his fellow Democrat, Rev. Raphael Warnock, is in a closely watched race with Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). The rally comes ahead of the crucial January 5th election in Georgia which will decide who controls the United States senate. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

According to The Washington Post, Cobb County is the third-largest county in the state with over 750,000 residents. Though it is 62% white as of the latest Census numbers and has been conservative in the past, the county’s demographics are changing and they’ve voted blue in several significant recent elections.

Cobb County went blue for Hillary Clinton in 2016, for Abrams in the gubernatorial race in 2018 and for Joe Biden in November. Yet election officials in the county recently announced they’d be limiting the early voting locations for the upcoming Senate runoff from 11 during the presidential election to 5 for the runoff, per the Post.

Officials say it’s simply a matter of staffing. Early voting begins Dec. 14 and they say those trained in polling were unwilling to work as many hours as they did during the presidential election.

“We lost several of our advance voting managers and assistant managers due to the holidays, the workload and the pandemic,” Cobb County elections director Janine Eveler said in a letter to voting rights groups who questioned the move. “The remaining team members who agreed to work would do so only if the hours were less onerous … We are at the end of the election cycle and many are tired or just unwilling to work so hard, especially during this time of year.”

Julián Castro Campaigns With Georgia Senate Candidate Jon Ossoff For Runoff Election
People attend a rally with former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, on December 07, 2020 in Lilburn, Georgia. Ossoff is running against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) while his fellow Democrat, Rev. Raphael Warnock, is in a closely watched race with Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). The rally comes ahead of the crucial January 5th election in Georgia which will decide who controls the United States senate. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Voting rights advocates are concerned that with an election this important, a lack of early voting options could limit the number of voters who want to participate in the hotly contested race. They sent a letter to Cobb County officials that read in part:

“On behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., All Voting is Local Georgia, Georgia NAACP, the SPLC Action Fund, Black Voters Matter Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, we write to express deep concern about advance voting access Cobb County for the January 5, 2021 runoff election.

We understand that you are planning to eliminate over half of the County’s advance voting locations, transitioning from eleven locations used for the 2020 general election to only five locations for the upcoming runoff. While these closures are likely to adversely affect many Cobb County voters, we are especially concerned that these closures will be harmful to Cobb County’s Black and Latinx voters because many of the locations are in Black and Latinx communities. We urge you to maintain eleven advance voting locations for the upcoming runoff election.”

The letter went on to detail, with graphs and statistics, the disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx voters in the county. But Eveler says voters have the option to use absentee ballots or vote in person on Jan. 5 when all 145 polling places in the county will be open. Though long lines plagued previous elections in Georgia, as this is for the Senate the turnout is expected to be less than the 5 million Georgians that voted for president in November, per the Post.

Julián Castro Campaigns With Georgia Senate Candidate Jon Ossoff For Runoff Election
Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, speaks at a campaign event to register Democrats to vote in the January 5th senate runoff election on December 07, 2020 in Lilburn, Georgia. Ossoff is running against Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) while his fellow Democrat, Rev. Raphael Warnock, is in a closely watched race with Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA). The rally comes ahead of the crucial election which will decide who controls the United States senate. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

But Michael Pernick of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund told the Post that merging four polling places in the southern part of the county directly impacts the Black and brown voters who live predominantly in that area. He said that the advocacy organization is weighing their options “to protect communities of color in Cobb County that would have significant difficulty accessing advance voting if that plan goes through.” 

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If both Democrats win the Georgia race, the Senate will be equally Democratic and Republican, but Kamala Harris as VP would be the deciding vote in any partisan deadlock.

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