Civil rights groups upset with polling location change in Macon-Bibb
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Several civil rights groups are upset Macon-Bibb County recently moved the Memorial Gym polling location to a Bibb County Sheriff’s Office location.
Macon-Bibb voters who typically use the Godfrey 2 (Memorial Gym) polling location will have to go to the Bibb County Sheriff’s District Two Office to cast their ballots in the May and November elections.
“We think that putting a precinct with a police operation will deter voters from participation,” said Helen Butler, the Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda.
The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Georgia NAACP and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a letter to Macon-Bibb’s Board of Elections on April 13 expressing their concerns.
“Police precincts are barriers anywhere they are. If you’re going to have a precinct for voting, it should be a neutral place that people feel warm and [welcomed] to,” said Butler.
The letter says “law enforcement has unfortunately played a central role in the suppression of the African American vote through the course of our nation’s history.” It uses high-profile officer-involved shooting cases, like Michael Brown and Freddie Gray’s, as evidence that there is a negative perception of law enforcement by many in the African American community.
The letter also claims the BOE made this change without giving voters “reasonable advance notice of the plan” and without “considering reasonable alternatives for the temporary location of this polling place.”
Elections Supervisor Jeanetta Watson said the precinct was moved because Memorial Gym will be under construction longer than expected.
Julie Houk, Senior Special Counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Voting Rights Project said the organization is helping residents in the affected neighborhood work on a petition to send to the BOE.
“Under state law, there’s a petition opportunity for 20% of the affected voters in that precinct to file a petition with the board of election and ask them to reconsider their position,” said Houk.
The civil rights groups want the precinct to be moved to, what they call, a neutral location.
“The solution is putting it in a neutral place that would be accessible for voters. There are several options we presented, but there are other options that are available as well,” said Butler.
Macedonia Church and Elam Alexander Academy are the two options the organizations gave to BOE.
Watson said, as of now, BOE has no intention of moving the sheriff’s office precinct. She referred all other questions to the Assistant County Attorney.
The civil rights groups plan to hold a news conference Wednesday at 1 p.m. in front of the Board of Elections.