On Thursday evening, the election board of Randolph County, Georgia, met to discuss a startling proposal to eliminate three-fourths of the county’s polling places months before the November election. A rural, impoverished, and predominantly black county, Randolph has just nine polling locations, all of which were open during the May primaries and July runoffs. The election board may soon shut down seven of them, including one in a precinct where about 97 percent of voters are black. Its plan would compel residents, many of whom have no car or access to public transit, to travel as much as 30 miles round trip to reach the nearest polling place.
Because of its history of racist voting laws, Randolph County was once required to seek federal permission before altering its election procedures. But after the Supreme Court gutted this oversight in 2013, the county was freed to crack down on the franchise. It is no coincidence that its election board chose this moment to shutter most of its polls: In November, the popular Democrat Stacey Abrams will compete for the governorship against Republican Brian Kemp, the current Georgia secretary of state. Kemp, who has devoted his time in office to a ruthless campaign of voter suppression, called upon Randolph County to abandon the plan when it spurred widespread outrage. That being said, the key figure in the Randolph County controversy is a Kemp ally who was handpicked by the secretary of state to close polls throughout Georgia.