Bid to close voting sites in mostly black U.S. county fails

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(Reuters) – A county elections board in Georgia on Friday blocked an effort to close most polling places in a largely black county ahead of the November election, where a Democrat is vying to become the first U.S. African-American female governor, a county spokesman said.

FILE PHOTO: Stacey Abrams, running for the Democratic primary for Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race, speaks at a Young Democrats of Cobb County meeting as she campaigns in Cobb County, Georgia, U.S. on November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry/File Photo

The Randolph County board of elections voted 2-0 to make no changes to voting precincts, a spokesman said in a phone interview.

Both Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee who is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor, and Republican candidate Brian Kemp, who is white and serves as Georgia’s secretary of state, had urged county officials to drop the plan.

The proposal had been submitted by an elections consultant who had donated money to Kemp’s campaign, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It said that county officials who had hired the consultant in April to work on election management fired him on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp speaks with visitors to the state capitol about the “SEC primary” involving a group of southern states voting next month in Atlanta, Georgia February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Letitia Stein/File Photo

“We are pleased African-Americans voters in Randolph County will be able to access polling stations in November,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a phone interview. “Too often they are faced with voter suppression tactics like this which are clearly motivated by racial animus.”

The proposal would have closed seven of the rural county’s nine polling sides because they were not wheelchair accessible, which board members said was a violation of federal disabilities law. Some 60 percent of the rural county’s 7,100 residents are black.

“In the United States, the right to vote is sacred,” the Randolph County Board of Elections said in a statement, according to the newspaper. “The interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle.”

Officials at the county board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Randolph County is 125 miles (200 km) south of Atlanta.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Tim Reid in Chicago, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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