Closings will save a few dollars, but at what price?

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By Columnist Jim McManus

I am ignorant of the source and, therefore the motivation, of this rather widespread movement in Georgia to effect changes in our election laws. The shrinking of the total number of polling stations, as suggested at the two recent local Board of Elections hearings, is only the latest in a series of moves by public officials statewide.

I find the firm insistence that saving money lies at the heart of the matter to be less than candid. Emmie Smock’s impassioned plea that we all see the vote is above and beyond pricing and Mike Naples’ piercing analysis of the consequences to citizens whose access to the polls is made difficult by the cutback plan of 11 to five polling places destroy the rush to save a few dollars.

At the first hearing, certain members of the Board adopted argumentative responses rather than a more educational, courteous, and cooperative tone. At one point, Mr. Naples was effectively told to shut up during his comments. It has long been my experience that such hearings are important in venting strong opposition by members of the public. At the end, when we citizens were offered a cool “come if you want to” next Tuesday invitation, I was then and I remain convinced that the Board’s majority will vote the cutback plan.

In a nation where four of every 10 eligible voters ignore their citizenship duties and fail to help select a president, and where those four repeatedly complain in opinion polls that voting is just too much hassle, I think that finding ways to encourage them to vote is worth more than the cramped – and often suspect – lethargy of public officials.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice has moved against the state of Texas with regard to sections of the Voting Rights Act. You may be sure that this will be only the first step. The cost of litigation that is certain to arise in a number of states will eclipse every nickel saved by various official acts across the nation. Perhaps even in Georgia.

It happens that I was in the House of Representatives the night in 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson offered his Voting Rights Act for passage. That’s the one where he paused and thundered, “We shall overcome.” He got a standing ovation. Both sides of the aisle.

I still believe him.

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