Earlier this week, dozens of black seniors who boarded a bus to vote early in Jefferson County, Georgia were told to get off after someone called county officials, as originally reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now, one of the organizers of the get-out-the-vote effort has gone on CNN to directly call out the racism inherent in this attempt at voter suppression.
The bus was intended to transport seniors from a county-run senior community center to a Jefferson County polling place. LaTosha Brown, an organizer with the Black Voters Matter Fund, who was on the bus, told CNN they were flagged down right as they were about to leave the center.
“At the time what we were told is that someone had passed by, saw the seniors getting on the bus, called the county commissioner’s office, the county administrator had called the [senior center] director and told them ‘Those folks have to get off the bus now,’” she says in the CNN video.
Brown told CNN the reasons the group were given for being stopped were “forever-changing.” She says they were first told that her and other organizers “hadn’t been vetted,” and didn’t know the seniors, though they’d spent two hours with them prior to boarding the bus. The county administrator later said that the bus was stopped because one of the organizers was associated with the Democratic party.
According to CNN, Jefferson County administrator Adam Brett told the Journal-Constitution that he felt “uncomfortable with allowing senior center patrons to leave the facility in a bus with an unknown third party.” Brett added, “No seniors at the Jefferson County senior center were denied their right to vote.”
“That statement is extremely paternalistic,” Brown said on CNN. “It’s based on a particular kind of race power dynamics where people are abusing power.”
“This was not a senior facility that people were residents. This was a community center where people go for activities. These are seniors who are able bodied, who come on their own accord, of their own choice,” Brown said. “Here is one person who thinks he can interfere with [that] process and make a decision for people better than they can make for themselves.”
“When we talk about voter suppression, there’s a spectrum of that,” she added. “Anytime you’re doing anything to interfere with someone’s choice, to be able to go freely vote on their own will, that is a form of voter suppression.”
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund has written to the county calling for an investigation, calling the actions “an unacceptable act of voter intimidation” that “potentially violates several laws.” Brown says she is working with the NAACP attorneys.
“[Brett] did not have the right to make that call,” Brown says.
As the midterms approach, Georgia has been plagued by accusations of voter suppression, including its attempts to use “exact match” requirements to bar anyone from voting whose voter information doesn’t perfectly match that on their Social Security and drivers license. Advocacy groups have sued Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—who is currently running against Democrat Stacy Abrams for governor—over the policies. Kemp’s office apparently also sent Brown and other organizers a letter, informing them that the bus incident is under investigation.