A group of Black senior citizens in rural Georgia were excited to take part in the state’s early voting period on Monday. A voting organization called Black Voters Matter organized for a bus to take the senior center residents to the polls; however, before the bus pulled away, a county administrator ordered elderly Black voters off the bus, an act the organizers believe was voter suppression.
Black Voters Matter is driving their voting bus across the state to encourage Black voters who don’t have access to transportation to vote in the midterm elections. The organization visited seniors at the Leisure Center in Jefferson County and discussed the importance of voting before inviting them aboard the bus.
Outside the bus, the senior citizens danced and celebrated their opportunity to take part in democracy.
But once they were on the bus, Black Voters Matter co-founder Cliff Albright announced that they’d have to get off. According to Leisure Center’s staff, someone called county officials and complained that the bus should not be taking voters to the polls, reported Think Progress.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday reported that a Jefferson County clerk said officials considered the bus tour “political activity,” which is barred at county-sponsored events. The senior center is a county-run facility.
LaTosha Brown, Black Voters Matter’s other co-founder, said there was nothing illegal about the group’s activity and the organization doesn’t endorse any particular candidate. She called it a clear-cut case of “voter intimidation.”
“This is voter suppression, Southern style,” said Brown. “I’m very upset. I’m angry. I’m frustrated. I’ve got a lot of emotions right now.”
Bonnie Wells, the clerk for the Jefferson County Commission, denied allegations of voter suppression. Wells also told ThinkProgress her office didn’t receive any calls complaining about Black Voters Matter’s activity.
Late Tuesday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund sent a letter to the county demanding that officials open an “immediate investigation” into the incident, which the fund called “an unacceptable act of voter intimidation.”
“During this electoral season, we all should be committed to ensuring that more, not fewer, eligible voters can participate and exercise their fundamental right to vote,” read the letter signed by Leah Aden, the organization’s deputy director of litigation.
Black Voters Matter organizers said they did not know who called the commissioner, but believes it was someone who took issue seeing a group of elderly Black people celebrating their right to vote.
“Even in the absence of law, they will use tactics like intimidation and voter suppression,” Brown said. “Somebody called the county commission, but there was nothing illegal or inappropriate.”
The senior center has its own bus that it can use to bring the elderly voters to the polls in the future, Brown said.
“At the end of the day, every senior that got off that bus, not only are they going to vote, but they’re going to get five to ten people to vote with them,” she said.
(Photo: Adam Kaz/Getty Images)