Black Voters Matter: “This is voter suppression, Southern style.”
A bus full of 40 African American seniors were prevented from casting their ballots on the first day of early voting in rural Georgia. The seniors had boarded a tour bus belonging to Black Voters Matter inscribed with “The South is Rising,” but a county official ordered the seniors off the bus and did not allow it to proceed to the voting station, though it’s unclear who exactly reported the bus.
In Georgia, there are no laws prohibiting groups from transporting voters to polls, Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown told Think Progress.
“This is voter suppression, Southern style,” said Brown. “I’m very upset. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’ve got a lot of emotions right now.”
Black Voters Matter was at the Leisure Center in Jefferson County, Georgia speaking to seniors about the importance of voting when the seniors requested to ride with the group to their local polling station. The seniors then boarded the bus, but Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright said he received a call from county officials and told the seniors they would have to get off the bus.
According to the Leisure Center, someone called county officials and complained that the bus should not be taking seniors to the polls.
Yesterday, we experienced voter suppression in Louisville, Georgia.
We had a whole busload of beautiful black elders ready to go vote when the County Commissioner shut us down and made our elders get off the bus without having the chance to vote. Share this to spread the word! pic.twitter.com/fvULloAz4J
— Black Voters Matter (@BlackVotersMtr) October 17, 2018
County Officials First Deny Role in Black Voters Matter Bus
On Monday, Bonnie Wells, clerk for the Jefferson County Commission, had denied to Think Progress any involvement with the bus. She claimed the office had not received any calls about the bus and had not placed any calls.
But on Tuesday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that a Jefferson County clerk had called the Leisure Center because officials considered the bus tour “political activity.” The senior center is a county-run facility and political activity is prohibited at county-sponsored events.
Black Voters Matter says it’s a non-partisan group and their activities were legal and permitted. LaTosha Brown told Think Progress the organization does not support any particular party or candidate but only encourages and helps African-Americans to vote.
“Even in the absence of law, they will use tactics like intimidation and voter suppression,” Brown said. “Somebody called the county commission, but there was nothing illegal or inappropriate.”
Black Voters Matter, ‘The South is Rising’
Black Voters Matter is traveling across seven southern states in a tour they call, “The South is Rising,” and helping encourage voter engagement, as well as participating in Hurricane Michael relief efforts in Georgia.
Black Voters Matter was crucial in helping Alabama Senator Doug Jones win the Alabama Senate race in 2017. Black voter turnout for Jones compared to turnout for Obama.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has taken up the Black Voters Matter case in Jefferson County. The organization sent a letter to the county on behalf of Black Voters Matter demanding officials open an “immediate investigation” into the incident and condemned it as “an unacceptable act of voter intimidation” which “potentially violates several laws.”
“During this electoral season, we all should be committed to ensuring that more, not fewer, eligible voters can participate and exercise their fundamental right to vote,” read the letter signed by Leah Aden, the organization’s deputy director of litigation.
Black Voters Matters has said the incident has merely fired up the group and that all the elderly citizens that left the tour bus would organize up to ten other voters to vote with each of them. The Leisure Center has its own bus which can be used to transport elderly voters to voting centers.