No rights denied

Lawsuit protesting May 20 election date has no merit

Did you hear about the land mines and razor wire election officials are installing at polling places to keep blacks from voting May 20?

You might have thought it true, considering the outcry over Augusta holding local elections during the state primaries next month instead of July as previously scheduled.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Augusta residents Rep. Henry Howard, Rep. Earnest Smith, Rep. Gloria Frazier, Thomas Walker, Kenneth Martin, Augusta Commission candidate Melvin Ivey and Albert Robinson Jr.

They say moving the local election is an attempt to suppress black voters, which violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

How does holding an election in May deny blacks the same right to vote that they have in any other month of the year?

A U.S. District Court judge fast-tracked the case this week. Attorneys representing Augusta’s mayor and commission have until April 30 to respond; plaintiffs have until May 5 to reply.

In the meantime, absentee voting for the mayor’s seat and commission districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 will continue. Early, in-person voting is set to begin Monday at City Hall.

This lawsuit is without merit.

It notes a similar attempt to change the local election date in 2012 – interpreted as a violation of the Voting Rights Act by the Department of Justice. However, the section of the act requiring federal approval of election changes was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

Then there’s the issue of the plaintiffs’ timing. Shouldn’t there have been at least some clamor when Richmond County announced, last November, its intent to change the election date? Or when legislation enabling the date change – House Bill 310 – sailed through this year’s General Assembly (164-0 in the House)?

Instead, Reps. Howard, Smith and Frazier – the three legislators now suing to strike down the May election date – voted for it in the House. Now they’re opposed?

Make no mistake: Bigotry is afoot here, but not how the plaintiffs would like you to believe. It’s the kind former President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” in which segments of society
condescendingly lower the standards for a particular race or ethnicity because of a perceived inferiority.

It’s insulting to insinuate black voters can’t pull themselves together to cast a ballot during a three-week period in May. Isn’t that the same as suggesting they lack the sophistication to obtain photo IDs to vote? Are the plaintiffs’ opinion of black voters in Richmond County really this low?

This lawsuit appears to say more about the individuals pushing the issue than those they purport to represent.

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