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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The county legal professional for a largely Black neighborhood in Georgia, Barry Fleming, was pushing to restrict voting entry within the state. Residents there protested — and now he is out

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State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, is cosponsoring a invoice that is amongst greater than 250 proposals, pending throughout 43 states, to limit voting entry. Till final week, Fleming additionally served as county legal professional in Hancock County, the place 7 of 10 residents is Black and the place residents will forged ballots by way of the tip of the yr underneath the watch of a court-appointed examiner after the county election board was accused in a federal lawsuit of unfairly eradicating voters — most of them Black — from the rolls.

Whereas Fleming was not lead counsel for the county defendants within the federal lawsuit, his current efforts to restrict voting entry within the state angered some Hancock County residents, who’re nonetheless reeling from the battle over voting rolls.

“So many individuals within the county did not know he was the legal professional. Now, some Blacks in the neighborhood who … have an understanding of issues are infuriated,” mentioned Johnny Thornton, who helped launch the federal lawsuit after the Board of Elections and Registration scrubbed him from the voting rolls in 2015.

“We’re one of many poorest counties within the nation, and we’re paying this legal professional and he is in Atlanta creating legal guidelines to additional prohibit our voting rights,” he mentioned.

The difficulty within the sprawling central Georgia county of 8,500 individuals got here as former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and different voting rights activists decried GOP-led efforts to restrict entry to the polls nationwide, saying the payments quantity to assaults on democracy and Black voters.
President Joe Biden final week wielded his government energy to launch a counteroffensive, increasing voting entry, and a sweeping invoice making its manner by way of Congress would counter state-level efforts to limit voting entry.
Fleming is chairman of the state Legislature’s Particular Committee on Election Integrity. Regardless of Georgia’s Republican secretary of state repeatedly saying there isn’t a proof of widespread fraud in November’s election, Fleming has sought to tighten voting entry and has likened absentee voting to “the shady a part of city down close to the docks.”
His Home Invoice 531 consists of a number of restrictions on voting entry, limiting poll drop bins, absentee voting and Sunday early voting — the latter a well-liked get-out-the-vote technique amongst Black church buildings, which give transportation to take “souls to the polls.”
Ninety-seven Home Republicans accepted the invoice, whereas 72 Democrats voted in opposition to it. The invoice is pending within the state Senate Ethics Committee following a Tuesday listening to.

Protesters demand motion, and get it

Final week, 40 or so protesters, many carrying “Black Voters Matter” T-shirts, took to the steps of the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta. Their placards left no thriller as to their expectations of the Board of Commissioners at its common assembly:

“Fleming does not care about Hancock”

“A vote for him is a vote in opposition to us”

“Hearth Fleming! Shield our vote!”

“Barry must be suppressed”

The commissioners opted to ask Fleming to step down, although their reasoning isn’t clear: The minutes point out his future with the county was determined in an hourlong government session closed to the general public.

“I do not suppose it wants dialogue,” Commissioner Ted Reid, who was within the session, advised CNN. “Mr. Fleming was requested to resign by unanimous consent.”

Requested why, Reid mentioned the fee had launched a press release, however he was referring to the fee assembly’s minutes, that are unofficial and supply no rationale.

They are saying solely, “Unanimous consent by Commissioners to ask Mr. Fleming for resignation,” and add that “whereas the seek for county legal professional companies is in course of,” any authorized issues will probably be addressed by a associate from Fleming’s legislation agency exterior Augusta.

​CNN reached out to all the commissioners named within the minutes. BOC Chairwoman Sistie Hudson, BOC clerk Borderick Foster and Commissioners Gloria Cooper, Steve Hill and Randolph Clayton didn’t return CNN’s emails or cellphone calls searching for remark.

Reid didn’t know if Fleming had acquiesced to the BOC’s request, he mentioned Monday, however native media experiences point out Fleming stepped down final week. Fleming, who additionally serves as county legal professional in Burke, Glascock and Putnam counties and has represented a number of small Georgia cities, didn’t return CNN’s requests for remark.

Rep. Barry Fleming speaks this month on HB531 in the House chamber.
“Hancock County is a good place,” the longtime lawmaker advised CNN affiliate WXIA. “There’s an awesome Board of Commissioners there. I loved working with them for, I feel, 9 years, and I solely want them the very best.”

Talking to the lawmaker after a closed-door session on election payments, WXIA reported Fleming mentioned he felt no animus towards the county.

“None in any respect. They’re good individuals, and if I may ever do something sooner or later to assist them, I would be pleased to do it,” he mentioned.

Folks protesting his proposed voting laws “misunderstand” lots of its parts, he mentioned, in keeping with the station, which supplied no elaboration.

Abrams says laws targets Black voters

Fleming’s resignation got here days earlier than Abrams, the 2018 gubernatorial candidate cum voting activist, slammed state voting payments throughout the nation, alleging their intention is to suppress Black votes after a November election that noticed report turnout at state and nationwide ranges. She likened the Georgia efforts to “a redux of Jim Crow, in a go well with and tie.”

“The one connection that we are able to discover is that extra individuals of shade voted, and it modified the result of elections in a course that Republicans don’t like,” Abrams advised CNN.

Regardless of assurances from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, that there was no proof of widespread fraud within the current elections — which noticed Biden and two Democratic senators win Georgia — former President Donald Trump and different Republicans have repeatedly made false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
Raffensperger mentioned in January that Trump was working on “unhealthy information,” and The Washington Submit reported final month the district legal professional in Fulton County, which incorporates elements of Atlanta, is investigating a name between Trump loyalist Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Raffensperger to decide if Trump’s staff violated any legal guidelines in attempting to overturn his election loss. Raffensperger’s workplace, too, is investigating the ex-President. Graham has refuted Raffensperger’s account of the decision.
In an op-ed for The Augusta Chronicle days after the November election, Fleming referred to “the always-suspect absentee balloting course of” in Georgia and different states, and advised readers to anticipate the Republican-led Normal Meeting to handle it this yr.

“If elections had been like coastal cities,” Fleming wrote, “absentee balloting can be the shady a part of city down close to the docks you don’t want to wander into.”

He closed urging readers to elect Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to the US Senate. The Republicans misplaced their seats in a January runoff, which handed management of the Senate to Democrats. The reliably Democratic Hancock County ticked the bins for Biden and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock by 71.7%, 72.3% and 72.4%, respectively.

Voters nonetheless really feel the sting of being burned

The county voted within the 2020 normal and runoff elections underneath the supervision of an examiner appointed by the US District Courtroom for the Center District of Georgia. Thornton and different voters filed a lawsuit in 2015 after the county Board of Elections and Registration tried to take away voters from the rolls and despatched deputies to their properties, summonsing them to show their eligibility.
“The BOER regularly accepted rumour, hypothesis, and unsubstantiated rumors supplied by unnamed witnesses and nameless people as enough proof to take away registered Black voters,” the lawsuit mentioned.

Virtually all the voters focused within the purge had been African American. When resident Larry Webb, who’s Black, went to the BOER to problem White voters he knew had died or moved out of the county, emails revealed within the lawsuit confirmed voting officers didn’t take Webb’s challenges significantly. In addition they declined to ship deputies to the White voters’ properties until Webb paid $50 a pop, the place the BOER had despatched deputies to Black voters’ properties as a courtesy, Webb advised CNN.

Responding to the lawsuit, the election board “strenuously” denied violating any legal guidelines, together with focusing on Black voters.

The federal courtroom reinstated most of the purged voters to the rolls and administered a consent decree, appointing an examiner “who will overview the BOER’s actions concerning checklist upkeep and voter challenges based mostly on residency” and make suggestions on the best way to adjust to state legislation, a courtroom order mentioned.

Examiner Gary Spencer, an Atlanta legal professional, advised CNN in December the county has been “type of noneventful” since his appointment. For a lot of residents, although, it is robust to neglect current historical past.

“What they did was past voter suppression. If one thing is fallacious along with your voter registration, they need to name you and inform you what’s fallacious. What they had been doing is taking you off the rolls, and also you would not discover out till the election,” Webb advised CNN. “They had been making Black votes disappear.”

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