A group of 40 black senior citizens in rural Georgia were ordered to get off a bus that was taking them from their senior center to go vote early in the state’s contentious gubernatorial race, an act organizers described as “live voter suppression.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Black Voters Matter‘s (BVM) bus was preparing to leave a county-operated senior center when the center’s director told them to get off.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of BVM, told the newspaper that a county clerk called the senior center to raise concerns about the bus.
According to Brown, BVM had secured permission from the senior center for the event.
“We knew it was an intimidation tactic,” Brown said. “It was really unnecessary. These are grown people.”
Jefferson County Administrator Adam Brett told the AJC that officials considered the bus tour “political activity,” which is barred at county-sponsored events. The senior center, the article pointed out, is a county-run facility.
The senior voting event was reportedly organized with the help of the county’s Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Evans, Brett said.
“Jefferson County administration felt uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party,” Brett said. “No seniors at the Jefferson County senior center were denied their right to vote.”
The Hill reports:
Evans, who attended the event, said she helped organize it as a private citizen, and denied that it was political.
Brown said that the seniors were “so resolved” about voting.
“They said: ‘We’re going to vote. Nobody’s going to stop us,’ ” she said. “It wasn’t the first time someone has denied them or tried to prevent them from voting.”
The senior center has its own bus that it can use to bring the elderly voters to the polls in the future, Brown said.
“At the end of the day, every senior that got off that bus, not only are they going to vote, but they’re going to get five to ten people to vote with them,” she said.
Late Tuesday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to the county on behalf of BVM demanding that officials open an “immediate investigation” into the incident. The NAACP condemned it as “an unacceptable act of voter intimidation” and saying it “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 Matter, an advocacy group that helped Doug Jones win his Senate seat in Alabama late last year, is currently on a bus tour it has called “The South is Rising.” The group is traveling across seven southern states, undertaking voter outreach and engagement, as well as providing disaster relief in parts of Georgia affected by Hurricane Michael.
Black Voters Matter organizers said they did not know who called the commissioner, but said they presume it was someone who was scared by the sight of black people celebrating and preparing 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.”