Cobb elections board tables discussion on move of Cooper Middle School polling place to police training center

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

The Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration tabled a final decision on whether to follow through with a previous decision to move the voting location which is now in Cooper Middle School in Austell, to the Cobb County Police training facility on the East West Connector.

The precinct in question is Cooper 01.

During public comments people from East Cobb, Acworth and Marietta weighed in, along with Police Chief Tim Cox and ACLU of Georgia voting rights staff attorney Rahul Garabadu.

The one thing missing were the voices of the people who would be directly affected by the change, the voters of the Cooper 01 precinct.

The reason mentioned most often for the decision to change the precinct was the accessibility for people with disabilities. When the school was first used for a polling place in the early 2000s, voting was done in a band room accessable through the building’s front entrance.

As the number of people voting increased, the voting area was moved to the gym, and the only access is a driveway with a steep incline and poor lighting.

The objection raised to the change was that relations between the Black community and police have often been strained, and that some people in the heavily Black community comprising Cooper 01 would be reluctant to vote in a police facility.

Cobb County Police Chief Tim Cox objected to that argument, and said, “For the individuals that do not know me, I’m a resident of Cobb County.”

“I’ve been in the county for 58 years,” he said. “I also serve as the chief of police for the Cobb County Police Department. I’ve been with the Cobb County Police Department almost 37 years. I’ve been the chief for almost three years and served as deputy chief for five years before that. I’ve worked at every police precinct that we have in this county.”

“The reason I’m speaking today is really because of some media comments that I read recently concerning the last meeting,” he said. “And some of those comments seem to imply that the Cobb County Police Training Facility would be some form of an intimidation factor to citizens of this county.”

“Now the Cobb County Police Department Training Center falls under the Cobb County Police Department which actually I oversee ultimately,” he said. “So I’d like to address a couple of issues and then maybe just provide some insight of people who’ve used the facility in the past who have never indicated to me that they ever felt intimidated by walking in that facility.”

He said that both the Cobb NAACP and Cobb SCLC had been to events at the training facility and had never raised objections that they were intimidated.

Rahul Garabadu, voting rights staff attorney for ACLU of Georgia, spoke in opposition to moving Cooper 01 to the police training facility.

“I spoke at this meeting last month regarding the board’s motion to reconsider moving the Cooper 01 polling location from Cooper Middle School to the Cobb County police academy,” Garabadu said. “I’m here today to urge the board to move Cooper 01 polling location outside of the police academy for many of the same reasons articulated by a majority of this board just a month ago.”

“First, moving the polling location to a police academy will deter voters of color, especially Black voters, from casting a ballot,” he said. “And you don’t have to take our word for that. Many of the members of this board spoke at the last meeting to note that they had heard concerns from citizens about moving Cooper 01 from a middle school to a police academy.”

“During these public comments last month, you heard from a Black voter who would be affected by this change, who spoke about his concerns and how he felt intimidated by the fact that the voting location was being moved to a police academy,” he said. “And none of that means that we are impugning the wonderful work that the Cobb County Police Department does.”

“We’re just asking you to take into account the history that Black voters in particular have face when voting in the past, and to account for that context,” he said.

Board member Jennifer Mosbacher made a motion to table the discussion while Cobb elections works on getting input from the voters of Cooper 01. The motion passed.

The net effect is that the plan to move the voting place to the training facility is still in place pending another discussion and vote by the board.