Photo: Drew Angerer (Getty Images)
The rapidly gentrifying Atlanta suburb known for banning sagging pants has outraged black residents while likely delighting the state’s vote-suppressing governor by announcing a decision to move the city’s only polling location to the local police department.
On September 3, the City Council of Jonesboro, Ga. voted to move the city’s sole polling place to the Jonesboro Police Department, angering residents and people who don’t wear skinny jeans. In a letter to city leaders and election officials (pdf), the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law called the decision “clear voter suppression,” adding that the decision did not comply with the state’s rules for notifying the public and violated laws barring election officials from changing locations 60 days before an election.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
City Manager Ricky Clark said the polling place had to be moved for this year’s municipal elections. The existing precinct at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum is under construction for a redevelopment called the Broad Street Project.
“The chambers of the police department where the polling place will be located is the exact location where all Council meetings of the city of Jonesboro take place, which makes it the most comfortable and familiar location for residents of the city of Jonesboro who will be coming to vote,” Clark said.
Jonesboro City Hall doesn’t have enough space or parking for Election Day, but it will still be used for early voting, Clark said.
Clark rejected the claim that the City Council’s vote didn’t comply with the law, explaining that the Council’s vote came 63 days prior to the Nov. 5 election day. On that matter, Clark seems to be correct. The agenda and video for the meeting clearly show the City Council discussing the decision during the Sept. 3 meeting for a grand total of 1 minute and 48 seconds, including an 8-second allowance for public discussion. And in an August 21 notice, the city did notify residents that they could come and voice any objections to moving the polling place.
If you’re wondering why citizens would be hesitant to vote at the new location, you should know that the Jonesboro Police Department has been dogged by allegations of police brutality and mistreatment for years, which led to the resignation of the city’s police chief in June 2018. In 2011, the City Council made national headlines when it passed a citywide ordinance declaring sagging pants an act of “disorderly conduct.” Although it is in metro Atlanta’s least affluent county, it is rapidly gentrifying, pushing many residents out of affordable housing.
“Needless to say, this move is one that could have a chilling effect on African American voters given the city’s recent history,” explained Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law (and a 2019 Root 100 honoree). “The police department is far from the kind of neutral location where all people would feel free to vote.”