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Majority-Black Georgia County Fires Consultant Who Proposed Closing Most Polling Places

The elections consultant who proposed closing most voting locations in a majority African-American rural Georgia county has been fired ahead of a vote Friday on consolidating precincts.

By Mark Niesse

The elections consultant who proposed closing most voting locations in a majority African-American rural Georgia county has been fired ahead of a vote Friday on consolidating precincts.

The proposal to shutter seven of the county's nine precincts before the Nov. 6 election appears unlikely to pass, said Randolph County Attorney Tommy Coleman.

Coleman fired the consultant, Mike Malone, in a letter dated Wednesday.

Malone's recommendation to close precincts before the election for Georgia governor received widespread opposition from voters and elected officials. Critics of the plan said it would have suppressed turnout in the governor's race between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

"He's certainly done more than enough," Coleman said Thursday. "The county is distressed because of the position they've found themselves in."

Malone said during public meetings last week that precincts should be closed because they're inaccessible to the disabled, they're expensive and they serve small numbers of voters. The county's two largest precincts would have remained open.

Randolph County is 61 percent black and supported Democrat Hillary Clinton for president with 55 percent of the vote in 2016.

Malone, who was hired in April to assist with elections until the county could find a permanent elections supervisor, didn't return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Malone's consulting contract with Randolph County doesn't mention closing precincts.

"That wasn't what he was hired to do," Coleman said. "We don't need the guy" since the county hired an elections supervisor.

Malone's proposal on consolidating precincts started the discussion about his termination, Coleman said.

Malone told residents that Kemp recommended precinct consolidation, but he then said this week in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he didn't recall hearing the secretary of state say that.

Malone has donated $250 to Kemp's campaign for governor, and he was hired after the chairman of the county's Board of Elections, Scott Peavy, contacted Kemp's office to seek names of certified elections officials on short notice before the May primary election. Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey provided three names, including Malone's.

Malone received a check for $2,235 for services he previously invoiced, according to his termination letter. He was paid a $2,000 retainer when he was hired and $55 per hour, according to his contract.

The decision to dismiss Malone was made after conversations with Peavy and County Commission Chairman Stephen Jackson, Coleman said. Neither Peavy nor Jackson returned phone messages seeking comment.

Kemp, the state's top elections official, has urged Randolph County officials to abandon the precinct closure proposal. Decisions about precinct locations are made on the county level.

Harvey, in an email he sent to Peavy on Thursday, also opposed the plan and criticized how the situation has been handled.

"You have created a national media spectacle by seeking to make major changes right before an election and failing to act in a decisive manner that is responsive to the demands of voters in Randolph County," Harvey wrote.

The county Board of Elections is scheduled to vote on the proposal during a Friday meeting.

"I would be the most surprised person in Georgia if this passed," Coleman said.

(c)2018 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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