Opinion: Why has Cobb County Decided to Make Voting Harder and Less Safe for the Runoff?

absentee ballot drop boxBallot drop at the South Cobb Government Center (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

This is an opinion by By Aklima Khondoker Georgia State Director of All Voting is Local

It’s been a long, excruciating year for all of us. We’re in the throes of a pandemic, a sinking economy, disheartening political division, and constant, tragic reminders of racial injustice in this country.

We’re all tired of 2020, but our collective exhaustion cannot come at the expense of our democracy.

And yet, Janine Eveler, Cobb County’s Elections Director, is making the runoff election less safe and accessible to voters by reducing the number of early vote sites from 11 to 7 in some of the county’s most populous Black and Latino communities. When confronted about the changes, Eveler restored two sites, but they’ll only be available for four days during the last week of early voting due to holiday closures.

In case you’re wondering, Cobb County already posted wait times of 120 minutes.

Over the general, when voters could access all 11 early vote sites, 14,586 ballots were cast during the first two days of early voting, compared to just 13,910 during early voting for the runoff – a 4.6% reduction in turnout. By contrast, other metro-Atlanta counties that kept all of their early vote sites open saw an increase in turnout during the first two days of early voting (Fulton, 25.1%, Gwinnett, 40.1%, and DeKalb, 12.3%).

High voter turnout aside, there are also serious health-related consequences with the reduction in early voting locations.

Since Thanksgiving, the U.S. has set grim records for COVID-19 related deaths. Just this week, we surpassed 3,000 deaths in a single day. All signs indicate that the situation will get worse through the winter. And yet, even as the CDC recommends avoiding crowds whenever possible, Director Eveler refuses to restore early voting locations, forcing voters to choose between their ballot and their health.

From a practical standpoint, early voting is a win-win. It allows the county to spread out the number of voters and gauge how many election supplies they’ll need on Election Day. For voters, it provides a timeframe to participate in democracy – which is especially critical in a highly-contagious pandemic as county officials consolidate polling locations at a rapid and unequal pace.

These facts beg the question: Why is Director Eveler closing early voting locations and making it harder and less safe for voters during the runoff?

When reporters asked, she said poll workers are tired, overworked, and unwilling to work during the early voting period. We certainly empathize with the poll workers — they are the front-line guardians of democracy and deserve nothing less than our respect and admiration. But let’s be clear, we are all tired. We’re especially tired of serving as nightly fodder for comedians due to voting issues. The solution to our collective exhaustion is to have more resources in place to support both poll workers and voters, not less.

Sadly, Eveler won’t even entertain the idea of accepting help from non-partisan organizations that can provide her with qualified election workers. But if she is unwilling to put Cobb County’s voters first, then Secretary of State Raffensperger needs to step up and step in.

Eveler cannot continue to run out the clock. Restoring all 11 early voting sites isn’t a concession – it’s restoring a baseline for voting access. If she really wanted to honor her voters, then she would look at the turnout and expand early voting locations as well as their hours of operation.

Being tired is not a reasonable excuse to create barriers to the ballot. Voters are tired too, but we’re still showing up and doing our part to participate in our democracy. Director Eveler must do the same.